In an independent report published today, researchers at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (GW Milken Institute SPH) estimated there were 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria from September 2017 through the end of February 2018. The researchers also identified gaps in the death certification and public communication processes and went on to make recommendations that will help prepare Puerto Rico for future hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017 and, soon after, the government of Puerto Rico determined that 64 people had died. Later, unofficial investigations and independent scientific studies suggested that the death toll was likely much higher. To get a more accurate and rigorous assessment, the Governor of Puerto Rico commissioned an independent study from GW Milken Institute SPH.
Today, GW Milken Institute SPH, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health, delivered on that request.
“The results of our epidemiological study suggest that, tragically, Hurricane Maria led to a large number of excess deaths throughout the island. Certain groups – those in lower income areas and the elderly – faced the highest risk,” said Carlos Santos-Burgoa, MD, MPH, PhD, the principal investigator of the project and a professor of global health at GW Milken Institute SPH. “We hope this report and its recommendations will help build the island’s resilience and pave the way toward a plan that will protect all sectors of society in times of natural disasters.”
The epidemiological study found:
- An estimated 2,975 excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria from September 2017 to February 2018, a number that is 22 percent higher than the number of deaths that would have been expected during that period in a year without the storm.
- All municipalities in Puerto Rico were hit hard by the hurricane and the aftermath, however, certain groups faced the biggest risk. In fact, this study showed that the risk of dying over this period was the highest (60 percent higher than expected) for people living in the poorest municipalities – and that the elevated risk persisted beyond February 2018.
- Over this same period, older male Puerto Ricans had a risk of death that was 35 percent higher than expected and that elevated risk continued past the study observation period.