The Slatest

Puerto Rico Finally Revises Hurricane Maria Death Toll to More Than 20 Times the Official Number

A man looks at hundreds of shoes displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria.
A man looks at hundreds of shoes displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria.
Ricardo Arduengo/Getty Images

Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last September, journalists and researchers have insisted that the island’s official death toll of 64 was far, far too low.* The government now admits that there were “1,427 more deaths in the four months after the hurricanes than normal.”

The new estimate, sourced from Puerto Rico’s Demographic Registry, was contained in a more-than-400-page report brought to light by the New York Times. “We definitely acknowledge this is a realistic estimate,” a Puerto Rico government spokesman told the Times. “We don’t want to say it out loud or publicize it as an official number. The official number will come, and it could be close. But until we see the study, and have the accuracy, we won’t be able to recognize the number as official.”

This new number is just one of many unofficial estimates that the hurricane was far more deadly than official statistics acknowledge. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July estimated there were 4,654 “excess deaths” between when the hurricane hit Puerto Rico and the end of 2017 and also cautioned that this level was “likely to be an underestimate.” The Puerto Rico government is working with George Washington University to work out a more accurate official death toll.

Correction, Aug. 9, 2018, at 11:24 a.m.: This post originally misstated that the official death toll was 67. It is 64.