Officials in Puerto Rico estimated the death toll from Hurricane Maria at 64. The real number looks to be higher by a shocking order of magnitude: According to a new survey, the number of Puerto Ricans who suffered hurricane-related deaths is likely closer to 4,645.
Researchers from the New England Journal of Medicine conducted a house-to-house survey across Puerto Rico in early 2018, asking each household whether anyone had died between Sept. 20 — the date Hurricane Maria hit the island — and the end of 2017. Comparing this data with Puerto Rico's mortality rate for the same date range in 2016, the researchers concluded that somewhere between 793 and 8,498 deaths occurred as a result of the hurricane (4,645 is the median).
The research into Hurricane Maria's death toll persists, in part, because the Puerto Rican government has denied access to a database that includes causes of each death, according to the L.A. Times.
The L.A. Times reports,
Among the deaths the researchers tallied through their survey, nearly 1 in 10 were a direct result of the storm, and one-third could be traced to "delayed or prevented access to medical care" as a result of the storm.
Indeed, 31% of households surveyed reported "disruptions to medical services" after the hurricane hit. About 14% of households were unable to get medications, 9% were stymied by closed medical facilities, 6% had doctors who were absent after the storm, and 10% lacked the electricity needed to power their respiratory equipment. In the most remote neighborhoods, about 9% of households had no way to call 911.
Read the full report here.