According to an Independent study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, the official death toll of Hurricane Maria has risen to 2,975 people. This new estimate is over 4,500% higher than the government’s previous official estimate of 64.
The recent study was performed by researchers at George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health. Researchers calculated the number of lives lost between September 2017 and the end of February 2018. Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of Milken School, says that this extended scope was determined so that they could capture all of the deaths that resulted from the power loss, low food and water supplies, and other extreme conditions on the island after the hurricane destroyed it.
The report from GWU showed that for people in the poorest communities, the risk of dying in the aftermath of Maria was 60% higher, and for those aged 65 or older, the risk was 35% higher. According to Goldman, the researchers are looking at the possibility of following through with the study for the next six months, until they see the death rates return to baseline.
The GWU report also cited the lack of preparedness on the part of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello and his government as a major reason for the death toll being so extreme. Specifically, the government lacked personnel training for crisis and emergency risk communication.
In a press conference following this report, Rossello admitted that he made mistakes. He also announced the creation of a commission that will improve public health and safety, make a registry of people who are considered at higher risk in future disasters, and update Puerto Rico’s preparedness plans to handle stronger hurricanes in the future.
Hurricane Maria’s disastrous effects on Puerto Rico has spurred other states and islands to take their hurricane preparedness seriously. Before Hurricane Lane hit Hawaii last week, emergency preparedness checklists and tips were published and spread across the islands in outlets such as Maui Now.
These lists advised to take evacuation notices seriously, to board up homes and businesses, and to have a healthy supply of food, water, gas, and more. They also advised citizens to update insurance policies to cover natural disaster damage and to take care of family members who have disabilities or do not speak English.
In the event of a natural disaster, people need to stay connected and aware of the disaster’s magnitude. When a powerful earthquake hit the east coast of the U.S. in 2011, citizens in New York City saw Twitter alerts warning of seismic activity originating in Virginia 20 seconds before the waves hit the city. This kind of warning can give people just enough time to find a safe place to wait out the disaster.