New Investigation Might Confirm Additional Deaths Caused By Hurricane Maria
Researchers at George Washington University are investigating the possibility that additional deaths occurred in the aftermath of the storm.
On Wednesday, officials from the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University announced that they are now investigating the possibility that additional deaths occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017. According to the Associated Press, the institute received almost $1 million from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for the investigation. Other researchers have estimated that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of the storm, but this project will seek to find out if more deaths occurred but were not reported.
The investigation will also focus on identifying direct and indirect deaths linked to building and infrastructure failures in the first two weeks after the storm, and will look for clusters of deaths connecting to facilities like hospitals and schools. Carlos Santos Burgoa, a Milken Institute professor who is leading the investigation, said in a statement that he hopes the project will help experts quickly and accurately count deaths following futre natural disasters.
Yaritsa Santiago is an example of someone who knows firsthand why Maria deaths may have gone undercounted. Her mother was airlifted from Puerto Rico to Miami after Maria for an operation, but after it was postponed as a result of the hurricane, she died. "I think it's fantastic they're creating this awareness,” Santiago, who lives in Tampa, told the AP of the project. "A lot of people had to leave Puerto Rico and died elsewhere. ... Following up is very important to avoid this happening in the future."
The Maria aftermath is one of four areas that the National Institute of Standards and Technology is focusing on with this project. The non-regulatory agency, which is within the U.S. Department of Commerce, is also researching September 11, a Rhode Island nightclub fire, and the 2011 tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri.