Hurricane Maria death toll estimate in Puerto Rico soars to nearly 3,000

Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) Credit: AP/Press Association Images

An estimated 3,000 people were killed after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico and devastated the island, a figure that was severely undercounted.

Researchers with the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University have revealed that the official death toll has been raised from 64 to 2,975 six months after the disaster.

The Trump administration were accused of responding half-heartedly to the storm that hit the US territory in September 2017 and left the island without power.

Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello announced a commission to study hurricane response and register the most vulnerable people on the island in the event of future hurricanes.

As Puerto Rico remains open to major storms, the government has improved a network to distribute food and medicine in an emergency.

But many are still without their homes as 60,000 houses do not have proper roofs and the power grid is still unstable.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said: “We never anticipated a scenario of zero communication, zero energy, zero highway access.

“I think the lesson is to anticipate the worst. Yes, I made mistakes. Yes, in hindsight, things could’ve been handled differently.”

60,000 houses do not have proper roofs and the power grid is still unstable. Credit: AP

While many on the island recover from the storm that destroyed their homes, researchers revealed that the official count from the September 20 hurricane was low in part because doctors were not trained in how to classify deaths after a disaster.

They also found that there were 1,427 more deaths than normal recorded in the three months after the storm.

Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute said: “A lesson from this is that efforts for assistance and recovery need to focus as much as possible on lower-income areas, on people who are older, who are more vulnerable,”

The number of deaths from September 2017 to February 2018 was 22% higher than the same period in previous years, Ms Goldman added.

Donald Trump angered many when he marveled over the small loss of life compared to “a real catastrophe like Katrina”. Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

Shortly after the storm, when the official death toll stood at 16, President Donald Trump marveled over the small loss of life compared with “a real catastrophe like Katrina”.

Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, was directly responsible for about 1,200 deaths, according to the National Hurricane Centre. That does not include indirect deaths of the sort the George Washington researchers counted in Puerto Rico.

The White House issued a statement noting that it sent 12,000 personnel to Puerto Rico for response and recovery efforts, and said it would continue to support the island’s government and its communities in their recovery for years to come.

In the statement The White House added: “The American people, including those grieving the loss of a loved one, deserve no less. The president remains proud of all of the work the federal family undertook to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.”