We did 'fantastic' job with hurricane relief in Puerto Rico

Marsha Scott
September 2, 2018

Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that his administration did a "fantastic job" helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria despite a new report this week that pegged the death toll from that storm at almost 3,000 people, almost double earlier estimates and far more than Puerto Rican government estimates.

"I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico", President Trump responded, adding, "don't forget, their electric plant was dead before the hurricane".

A year after the hurricane, residents are still struggling and many have fled the island for the mainland.

In truth, the new official number is still an estimate - based on mortality data and taking into account historical data on migration patterns.

The latest Puerto Rico figure was derived from comparisons between predicted mortality under normal circumstances and deaths documented after the storm, a number that turned out to be 22 percent higher. The researchers also adjusted for age, sex and migration from the island.

A study commissioned by the territory's government and released on Tuesday found that the storm caused about 2,975 deaths, not 64 as counted previously.

They say the initial low counts came partly because physicians lacked training on how to certify deaths after a disaster. The team found error rates in death certificates that were within the norms.

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It was the third major hurricane to hit the United States with lethal force in less than a month past year, following Harvey in Texas and Irma in the Caribbean and Florida. With some of the island still without power, Puerto Rico now faces into a hurricane season this year. Doctors had classified his death as natural, and it was not initially considered a storm-related death.

All jurisdictions, not only Puerto Rico and other parts of the USA but also globally, should develop methods to rapidly assess total excess mortality after natural disasters and to provide that information to the public.

Puerto Rico specifically needs to fully staff these public health functions within the Department of Health, including the Vital Statistics Registry and the Bureau of Forensic Sciences.

She also says the federal government "will continue to be supportive" of Gov. Ricardo Rossello's accountability efforts and says "the American people, including those grieving the loss of a loved one, deserve no less". In the second phase, the researchers plan to focus on the causes of death. Such a study can provide clues that will aid in protecting vulnerable groups in the future.

Rossello pledged to carry out the recommendations, though there are questions about Puerto Rico's ability to do so.

Hurricane Maria caused the largest blackout in U.S. history, according to research consultancy the Rhodium Group.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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