This report was originally published by Daisy Luther at The Organic Prepper
The official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is only 64 people. With the devastation wrought last September by the powerful storm, many people questioned the veracity of that number. And it looks like they may have had good cause. A new report from the New England Journal of Medicine puts the number at 70 times more than that – they estimate that 4645 people perished due to the hurricane, and say that this is a very conservative estimate.
Quantifying the effect of natural disasters on society is critical for recovery of public health services and infrastructure. The death toll can be difficult to assess in the aftermath of a major disaster. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria caused massive infrastructural damage to Puerto Rico, but its effect on mortality remains contentious. The official death count is 64.
Using a representative, stratified sample, we surveyed 3299 randomly chosen households across Puerto Rico to produce an independent estimate of all-cause mortality after the hurricane. Respondents were asked about displacement, infrastructure loss, and causes of death. We calculated excess deaths by comparing our estimated post-hurricane mortality rate with official rates for the same period in 2016…
…Our results indicate that the official death count of 64 is a substantial underestimate of the true burden of mortality after Hurricane Maria. Our estimate of 4645 excess deaths from September 20 through December 31, 2017, is likely to be conservative since subsequent adjustments for survivor bias and household-size distributions increase this estimate to more than 5000. These adjustments represent one simple way to account for biases, but we have made our data publicly available for additional analyses. (source)
That’s certainly an astonishing difference from the “official” report, isn’t it?
How people died
The NEJM says that the interruption of medical care was the primary cause of additional deaths. People with chronic illness, those who were injured, and folks who became ill after the hurricane were unable to access the basic care that would have ordinarily saved them.
Growing numbers of persons have chronic diseases and use sophisticated pharmaceutical and mechanical support that is dependent on electricity. Chronically ill patients are particularly vulnerable to disruptions in basic utilities, which highlights the need for these patients, their communities, and their providers to have contingency plans during and after disasters. (source)
Those surveyed reported the following health system issues:
- the inability to access medications
- the need for respiratory equipment requiring electricity
- closed medical facilities
- absent doctors
- the inability to reach 911 services by telephone
Interruption of utilities was another cause. Residents went for a long period of time without electricity, cell service, and running water. Many of the survey respondents are still without utilities. Waterborne illnesses have been rampant. The NRDC website reports:
Our patients still lack access to potable water. Even now, they are presenting with illnesses related to drinking water contamination at greater rates than doctors were seeing prior to Hurricane Maria. These diseases include gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, and dermatological conditions such as dermatitis, scabies and pediculosis. Some of our patients have tested positive for shigellosis. Since Maria, we have also seen several cases of leptospirosis—a relatively rare bacterial infection in humans, commonly transmitted by allowing fresh water that has been contaminated by animal urine (often from rats) to come in contact with the skin, eyes, or with the mucous membranes. This condition usually causes heart failure, kidney failure or liver failure, and most sufferers die if they are not treated quickly. Waterborne diseases are still present as a significant health risk to our patients six months after Maria. (source)
Water preparedness is probably the most important prep you can undertake in the event of a long-term disaster like this one.
The Puerto Rican government refuses to release further statistics
Officials in Puerto Rico have not released mortality data since December 2017 and it appears that all requests for this data have been denied.
It’s incredibly important from a preparedness point of view to have an accurate death toll, as well as an accounting of the prevalent causes of the deaths. Without that data, future responses will suffer.
The NEJM article concludes:
As the United States prepares for its next hurricane season, it will be critical to review how disaster-related deaths will be counted, in order to mobilize an appropriate response operation and account for the fate of those affected. (source)
Here’s what preppers can learn
In a longterm disaster, you cannot depend on 911. You should be asking yourself these questions:
- What necessary medical devices do I have and how will I run them without power? (CPAP, Respirators, etc.)
- Do I have enough water and filtration supplies?
- Do I have enough emergency food?
- Do I have a way to cook off the grid? Do I have additional fuel for my cooking method?
- Can I take care of my family medically if the health care system collapses?
If you’re anything like most Americans, you may find that you have some work to do before the next series of natural disasters rolls around.
Please feel free to share any information from this article in part or in full, giving credit to the author and including a link to The Organic Prepper and the following bio.
Daisy Luther is the author of The Pantry Primer: A Prepper’s Guide To Whole Food on a Half Price Budget. Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at [email protected]</e
Almost noone posting from a developed area has any idea where the water comes from, on a good day.
Not buying this story either.
3299 random households surveyed, estimated, estimated.
There aren’t that many morgues on the island, why not survey them?
Quite a few people have gone. But they didn’t all die. Most just flew to the States, or FEMA wrote them a check for house damages and they took off to live with their kids or uncle in Orlando, etc. and are not coming back.
Nor am I buying into the line about lack of potable water or utilities. Maybe true on other islands, not here. We were 4 and 1/2 months without power and 3 weeks without water and we are in a remote mountainous area.
Being ready paid off.
Overly dramatic story, Daisy.
Ketchup, agreed about this article. Daisy puts out too many BS articles these days. Mac should just stop linking to Daisy’s articles but that’s just me.
I eat fresh fruits and vegetables and grass-feed meat and dairy from my own yard, the farmers market, better quality food stores and online farms that deliver. But canned food is the best in an emergency.
Growing mint deters mice and rats. Oil of mint can be purchased, put on cotton balls and placed in the corners of the rooms of buildings with a rodent problem.
If you can’t call 911 in an emergency maybe you need to take health care back from reliance on high tech gadgets and chemical concoctions to swallow.
I have known many people relying on some gadget to breath find they were free to breathe on their own when they lost 200 pounds of fat literally suffocating them.
Boil water for several minutes after putting it through a filter.
They have to do a “study” to find out how many people died?
How about see how many claims there are on the Social Security Death Benefit and get a real count?
But that does not fit the propaganda narrative.
JS, agreed. They don’t dare to reveal how bad they screwed up.
So, Puerto Ricans can’t count. This is supposed to be surprising? Why?
I feel sorry for anyone who died during this event. However, PR has been given billions of US dollars over the past years to improve infrastructure, housing, roads, and etc. and local gov’t just pissed it away. PR gov’t is one of the most corrupt I have ever seen. It is so bad, that people steal the toilet paper in public restrooms.
They do that here in Houston Tx. too!
60+ ppl died in hurricane, hmmm. 4600+ died, OMG!!!! So why not peg the needle at 400,000+ ppl!!! This should get USA to send more $$$ to corrupt Puerto Rico politicians. I have a dark heart. Remember, about a year b4 the hurricane, ppl of the island went to polls to vote 2b part off USA or stay a territory. They decided to not b part of USA. My answer is no further aid.
Looks like Trump threw out the Paper towels a little too soon.
You get pity and money, the worse the death toll.
So, what is the vested interest, in not saying where 99% of the people went.
Death tolls rise after a disaster but that increase is hard to believe. There are a lot of older people who have no close family. If they die, it takes a long time to discover the death. I would like to know where the New England Journal of Medicine got their number. If it is accurate, it is probably too low since there are probably dead bodies that haven’t been recovered.
Much of the help that a disaster-stricken area gets, comes from the surrounding areas that were lightly affected. They send emergency services and other help. Corpses are found more quickly. Hurricane Maria hit a wide geographic area with limited resources to start with. It took a long time to effectively get to people. The priority was to help the living and not to count the dead.
The wider the area and the more central to that area you are, the less immediate help and the longer the wait to get help.