Public health researchers to analyze hurricane-related deaths in Puerto Rico

A team of researchers from the Milken Institute School of Public Health will lead an effort to determine the full death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the island’s governor announced Thursday.

Using death certificates and other government records, the research team will investigate how many deaths on the island can be attributed to Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico last fall. The review was ordered by Gov. Ricardo Russell Nevares and will also include an analysis of the government’s communication after the storm, according to a University release.

The government’s official death toll from the storm sits at 62, but media reports including an investigation by The New York Times found that more than a 1,000 people may have died as a result of the hurricane.

Last month, the governor called for more transparency throughout the recovery process in an executive order.

Carlos Santos-Burgoa, a professor of global health and the lead investigator on the study, said researchers will report the death toll as a range as is typical in these types of reviews. Santos-Burgoa added that the team will assess how well the Puerto Rican government counted the mortality rate and how closely officials followed standards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the storm’s aftermath.

The final report will include information for Puerto Rican officials to prepare for the coming hurricane season.

The Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz, who criticized the Trump administration’s response to the natural disaster, visited campus last semester to talk about the recovery process.

Lynn Goldman, the dean of the public health school, said the research has the potential to help Puerto Rico recover from the storm that has take a “terrible toll” on the island.

“Our hope is that the results of this analysis not only inform and speed the ongoing recovery, but also begin to lay the groundwork for preventing deaths as much as possible in the future,” she said in the release.

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