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Mourners carry the casket of Wilfredo Torres Rivera, 58, who died October 13 after jumping off a bridge into a lake, three weeks after Hurricane Maria, on October 19, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Officials still don't have an agreed upon number of storm-related casualties from Hurricane Maria, which slammed the island of Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, causing massive destruction to the island's infrastructure and knocking out the entire power grid.

Why it matters: Now a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday, finds a far higher estimate for the actual death toll, 4,645, than the official estimate of just 64.

Context: The death toll from this study means that Hurricane Maria killed more people than Hurricane Katrina did in 2005. That storm killed at least 1,833. It also eclipses the death toll on the day of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which killed 2,977.

Details:

  • The study found that the post-hurricane mortality rate was 14.3 deaths per 1,000 persons, which was a 62 percent increase from the pre-storm mortality rate during the same period in 2016.
  • Researchers say their estimated death toll is "likely to be an underestimate."
  • The study, by a group of Harvard University researchers as well as experts in Puerto Rico and elsewhere, found that the death toll from the Category 4 storm was actually 70 times higher than the official estimate.
  • The study's findings are consistent with other recent investigations that have found that storm deaths were far higher than the official count.

The big picture: The biggest factors leading to the higher death toll were disrupted medical services, including access to medication and medical facilities, the study found.

The government of Puerto Rico has requested an independent review of death-registry data to arrive at a more accurate official count of storm-related deaths, but the timing of this is unknown.

How they did it: Researchers surveyed 3,299 randomly chosen households across Puerto Rico to arrive at an independent mortality rate for all causes after the hurricane. They calculated excess deaths by comparing post-hurricane mortality rates with the same period the year before, when there was no major storm. According to the study, the death toll may have exceeded 5,000.

Between the lines: Public health experts remain deeply skeptical of the low death count in Puerto Rico from the most intense hurricane to hit that island in more than 80 years. This new study is the latest to dramatically increase the number of deaths, but it's unclear when the official count will be changed.

Go deeper: Thirty years of Atlantic hurricanes

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker

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