Puerto Rico governor calls Hurricane Maria death toll from 64 to 2,975

In this Oct. 5, 2017 file photo, a Puerto Rican flag is mounted on the debris of a damaged house in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in the seaside slum of La Perla, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Rico’s governor on Tuesday raised the official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975, in response to a new study found that the first figures were undercounted.

The study, an independent investigation ordered by the local government, found that almost 3,000 people died in the Hurricane that struck the island in September 2017.


Resilient Puerto Rico residents show the progress of a year after the Hurricane Maria

Gov. Ricardo Rossello has responded to the study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University officially by the lifting of the toll on Tuesday.

The number is more than double the government’s previous estimated death toll of 1,400.

“We never anticipated a scenario of zero communication, zero energy, zero highway access,” Rossello said. “I think the lesson is to anticipate the worst.”

A previous study led by a team of Harvard scientists discovered that more than 4,600 people were killed in the deadly storm, the rejection of the first number of the toll of 64 as a “significant underestimate.”

Rossello said that the formation of a commission for the study of the response to the hurricane. He said a registry of vulnerable people will also be made prior to any future hurricanes.

There is no national standard concerning the calculation of the disaster-related deaths. While the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports only direct deaths, such as those caused by flying debris, or drowning, some local governments may include indirect deaths from things like heart attacks and house fires.

Researchers from the George Washington said they counted dead over a period of six months — a much longer period of time than normal, because so many people were without power at that time.

The number of deaths has political implications for the Trump administration, which was accused of responding half-heartedly to the disaster. Shortly after the storm, when the official death toll stood at 16, President Trump surprised about the small loss of life compared to that of “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”

Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, was directly responsible for approximately 1200 deaths, according to the NHC. That does not include the indirect mortality of the sort of the George Washington researchers counted in Puerto Rico.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nicole Darrah cover breaking and trending news for Follow her on Twitter @nicoledarrah.

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