As of Wednesday, Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety announced that the deaths caused by Hurricane Maria stood at 58, but in and around the island, many have their doubts. A new study shows that the actual number may be more than 1,000, which would make it one of the deadliest hurricanes to strike the United States.
A BuzzFeed News investigation from late October found that across the island, funeral homes were burning the bodies of people who died in the aftermath of the hurricane, but not being counted as part of the official death toll. In the two months since Maria devastated the island, the number has climbed slowly, something that President Donald Trump applauded himself for during a visit to Puerto Rico. He erroneously said that the hurricane wasn’t a “real catastrophe like Katrina.” Now, research from Alexis Santos, a Puerto Rican demographer, and epidemiologist Jeffrey Howard analyzed the averages number of deaths per month between 2010 and 2016. Comparing these averages against the numbers from the past two months, they were able to come up with an estimate. Vox reports that this methodology is a trusted way to calculate death tolls for disaster deaths.
Based on their findings, the death toll in Puerto Rico may actually be 1,085. If so, the fatalities is closer to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, which killed at least 1,800. Using the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics System, they learned that there were 518 more deaths in September and 567 more in October.
People have criticized the Puerto Rican government for not accurately counting all those who have died as a direct result. This investigation is likely to drive those invested in the future of the island to seek more answers and to the hold the government accountable.