Yahoo News explains: The changing death toll from Hurricane Maria

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By Dean Arrindell

Nearly a year ago, Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, knocking out all power and devastating the island’s 3.3 million inhabitants. Based on data from a recent study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, the official Hurricane Maria death toll was raised in August from 64 to 2,975.

This number has been questioned as the one-year anniversary of the hurricane approaches, and as another storm, Hurricane Florence, threatens the lives of Americans. This week, President Trump said his administration did a good job in handling the response to Hurricane Maria. “And I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

The president also tweeted that he did not believe the new death toll was accurate, and claimed that Democrats were behind the revision.

Why did the death toll change? And how was it calculated? Yahoo News explains.

Two days after Maria hit the island, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said 13 people died in the hurricane, based on reports from mayors on the island. After President Trump visited the island in October, the governor announced the death toll had risen to 34. In December, three months after Maria struck Puerto Rico, the official toll climbed to 64. This number included deaths that were indirectly related to the storm.

Also in December, Gov. Rossello asked the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University to conduct a study into how many people were killed by Hurricane Maria. The team began working in February and published the results in August, estimating that 2,975 people had died between September 2017 and February 2018 from Hurricane Maria.

The team, which worked independently of the Puerto Rican government, looked at death certificates, spoke to funeral home directors and interviewed doctors, health officials, hospital directors and forensic pathologists to reach their conclusion. The study also examined mortality rates during the period after Hurricane Maria, and compared them to the same time period over the previous seven years.

The report concluded that the original count was low because doctors and forensic pathologists in Puerto Rico didn’t have guidance from state or federal officials to accurately count those who died.

In response to President Trump’s tweet, the Milken Institute released a statement saying they stand by their study, calling the 2,975 death toll number “the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date.”

When it was released, Gov. Rossello said the Milken study is an approximation, not a list of names. It used the “best science” available, he said, but they will continue to study deaths from Maria and revise the number if necessary. “The truth is there is a lot of work to do,” he said.

This article originally appeared here via Google News

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