Carnegie Mellon University

What's the Story with Puerto Rico's Death Toll?

June 07, 2018

What's the Story with Puerto Rico's Death Toll?

This article first appeared on The Last Word on Nothing on June 1, 2018


When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last fall, it killed power to most of the island. The toll was catastrophic. Damages have been estimated at $90 billion. For months, entire cities had no electricity, sanitation, and access to health care. Which is why the government’s official death toll from the storm—64 people—always seemed suspect.

On Sunday, a team from Harvard confirmed those suspicions. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, they showed that the hurricane killed more than 4,600 – 70 times the government’s number.

Why the difference? How can one entity count 64 people and another 4,600?  When what they’re counting is something as important as dead American citizens? It turns out counting disaster deaths is harder than it sounds.

Read more