Hurricane Maria death toll may be more than 4,600 in Puerto Rico

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The official death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico - which stands at just 64 according to the government of the still struggling USA territory - has been widely regarded as a serious underestimate. In November, they concluded that Puerto Rico had experienced an excess of roughly 1,100 deaths in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

"These numbers will serve as an important independent comparison to official statistics from death-registry data, which are now being re-evaluated, and underscore the inattention of the US government to the frail infrastructure of Puerto Rico", wrote the researchers.

Researchers in the United States and Puerto Rico, led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, calculated the number of deaths by surveying almost 3,300 randomly chosen households across the island and comparing the estimated post-hurricane death rate to the mortality rate for the year before.

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health estimated that between September 20 and December 31, there were 4,645 "excess deaths", according to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A research team led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health by surveying 3,299 randomly chosen households in the months following the hurricane. Because family members may have misremembered details, researchers warned that the final number is likely higher. Among other things, they asked whether anyone in the household died between the day the hurricane hit the island and the end of the year.

"We have always expected the number to be higher than was previously reported", said Carlos Mercader, director of Puerto Rico's Federal Affairs Administration.

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"The 2018 hurricane season begins this week, and it is critical that we do not repeat the mistakes of previous year", Thompson said.

The study found that the delay or interruption of medical care in the months after the hurricane was the No. 1 cause of death.

Maria, a major hurricane with winds close to 150 miles (241 km) per hour, caused an estimated US$90 billion in damage to an island already struggling economically and many residents have subsequently left.

"When I was in Puerto Rico, everyone felt there was likely an underestimate", said Fortuna, who took a two-week trip to the island to deliver medical supplies.

That would make it the deadliest storm since the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which killed an estimated 8,000 people.

Rossello's government has tapped researchers at George Washington University to conduct a review of the count, but those findings have not yet been released.

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The official government count at the time of writing is 64 fatalities.

At the same press conference, however, Pesquera drew a distinction between Harvard's survey and a tally "based on scientific data", as he said the George Washington study would be.

During his visit to Puerto Rico last October, President Trump hailed the low death toll, which at the time was 16.

In hospitals, services suffered from lack of electricity and an exodus of physicians from the island left a shortage of medical staff to treat the population.

HARRIS: She says it complements the official method, which usually relies on medical examiners who view bodies and determine the cause of death. Once again, thousands of people lost their lives because of it. In a moment, we'll hear reaction to the new estimate from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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