In addition, the Times notes, "Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism and CNN, and Alexis Raúl Santos, a demographer at Penn State, have also challenged the government's figure, finding evidence for hundreds of excess deaths in the weeks following the hurricane".
With sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour and heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding, there were many ways for Hurricane Maria to kill, explained the team led by Nishant Kishore of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Yet the official government count still stands at 64.
Only one hurricane to hit the US has taken more lives than the study estimates Maria did. They randomly sampled 35 households, totaling 9,522 people, in 13 barrios and then compared the number of deaths reported between September 20 and December 31 to the same period a year earlier since the island's death rate has not fluctuated significantly since 2010.
HARRIS: She says it complements the official method, which usually relies on medical examiners who view bodies and determine the cause of death.
That day, the certified death toll was 16.
The 4,645 deaths may still be an underestimate, researchers said, since deaths may have continued into 2018 and would not yet be counted.
"The Government of Puerto Rico welcomes the newly released Harvard University survey and we look forward to analyzing it".
The statistical data from the report provides important scientific backing to what everyone on the island and around the world already knows: that the true scale of fatalities is far beyond the number claimed by government officials.
The study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine surveyed 3,299 randomly chosen households in the island and asked the occupants about their experiences, who reported a total of 38 deaths. Researchers wrote that they hope US officials will use the data to better determine the scale and severity of disasters and prepare for recovery. The island is still struggling with power outages, a limited water supply and access to essential services, The Washington Post reported.
But experts say an accurate count was complicated by the widespread devastation wreaked by the storm.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has approved $1 billion in individual assistance grants for residents of Puerto Rico. For every death that is certified by a government official to be related to Hurricane Maria, family members are eligible to have the federal government help pay for funeral expenses.
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While Puerto Ricans and sympathetic politicians fight for the funds to rebuild the island, the region is bracing for this year's hurricane season amid warnings that territory is not prepared for another intense tropical storm.