Death toll discrepancy study from Hurricane Maria indicates greater impact

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - While a government report showed 64 people died from hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, a new study out of Harvard says the storm claimed almost 5 thousand lives.

Katrina's final death toll stood at 18 hundred 33.

Tulane University Professor Mark VanLandingham said, "It's a very difficult task to figure out how many people died from a event like this and you have a lot of political interest people who are in charge will want to try and drive those numbers down to indicate they didn't do if not a good job not a terrible job of it."

VanLandingham praises the Harvard study for shedding light on the almost 5 thousand people death toll. He says more people likely died from Katrina as well. But these conversations are important so people realize the effects continue long after the storm blows through.

He said, "The size of the death count will be a pretty good proxy of other things that are harder to measure PTSD, depression, economic difficulties and so getting the death number right is going to be important for that."

VanLandingham points out the death toll difference shouldn't necessarily indicate any intentional misdirection. He says it should be an indication to leaders to always work harder to help those after deadly events.

He said, "I don't think they're hiding it but they're not terribly excited about counting all those because it is an indictment about how the government responded there and int he end they could have done a lot better like we could have done better in Katrina."

Samuel Gonzalez with the United Way Puerto Rico lives on the island.

"We are a country used to hurricanes usually we are very prepared for that kind of situation," he said.

While he says the 5 thousand figure surprises him, he says its believable considering what he's seen and helped rebuild since Maria hit.

"The government they say its only 1 percent that doesn't have energy but we continue to hear form the mayor especially in the south east of the island that between 40-60 percent of municipalities doesn't have energy and in my opinion there's a discrepancy between what the government says and what the mayor says," he said.

And as many did not realize how many died from hurricane Maria, Gonzalez says many don't realize how many on the island still need help.

He said, "After 7 8 months without energy it's something very difficult to deal with."

VanLandingham also pointed out the study did not differentiate age. He said one thing they learned studying Katrina was a weather event like a hurricane had a greater impact on the elderly than the younger generation.