Sunday, December 10, 2017

In Puerto Rico, 1,000 Uncounted Deaths

According to the government of Puerto Rico, around 60 people died from the effects of Hurricane Maria. Given the storm’s meteorological profile and the extent of damage observed, the official death count is such an outlandishly low number that demographers have done their own studies to try to arrive at the true number. Two different demographic studies released this month estimate between 1,000 and 1,100 deaths caused by the hurricane. The true numbers are surely higher still for two reasons. First, demographers are not yet able to adjust accurately for the decline in population caused by people moving away immediately before or after the storm hit. Second, the effects of the storm continue, with only about half of the island having electricity and a water supply that is safe to drink and with months to go before major bridges and roads are restored. The hurricane, then, may have caused or advanced the deaths of not too much less than 0.1 percent of the people present. That would be a mortality rate worse than most disasters, but it fits what we know about Hurricane Maria. This was not just another hurricane, but by some measures the worst ever to hit the United States.