Puerto Rico official: Hurricane Maria deaths in recovery plan is not official number
SAN JUAN – Following a New York Times article Thursday that said Puerto Rico “quietly” acknowledged Hurricane Maria’s death toll was higher than the government’s official toll, Public Safety Secretary Héctor Pesquera said Centers for Disease Control methodology was used to determine it, but “always anticipated that this number would increase….”
Pesquera heads the umbrella department that oversees law enforcement and safety agencies, including the Forensic Sciences Institute, where autopsies had to be performed to determine whether a death was hurricane-related.
He reiterated, however, that although the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry published data on June 1 indicating “there was an excess of 1,400 deaths in the four months following Hurricane María,” that number “was not the result of an independent study—it is simple math. This is not the official number of deaths attributable to Hurricane María.”
The Times focused on the fact that the government included, in the hurricane recovery plan it sent to Congress, estimates that are higher than its official count of 64. In its draft recovery plan, the government called the Demographic Registry’s finding, of 1,427 more deaths than normal in the four months after the hurricanes, a “revised” estimate, but specified in its final document that these “may or may not be attributable to the hurricanes.”
The final plan also referred to study conducted by Harvard. “Estimates from other studies range from about 800 to 8,500 deaths from delayed or interrupted health care,” the plan reads.
“On January 4th, 2018, Governor Rosselló ordered an investigation, because CDC guidelines proved insufficient to account for mortality in the worst natural disaster Puerto Rico has ever seen,” Pesquera said Thursday, adding that, in February, “we announced that we would commission an independent epidemiologic study by the Milken Institute of Public Health, George Washington University, because we wanted an independent report to be conducted by professional epidemiologists.”
The official assured that the “government will update the official number” when the “official results from the George Washington University study in the coming weeks” are released.
“We owe it to the people of Puerto Rico to have a precise number, along with the data we need to make better preparations for future disaster situations. With this information, we can understand what procedures need to be in place in Puerto Rico to prevent such a high loss of life from ever happening again,” he added.