THIS IS WHY I DON’T PUT MUCH STOCK IN COMPARISONS OF “OFFICIAL” DEATH TOLLS: Florida’s official death toll for Hurricane Ian is now 144. By contrast, Puerto Rico officially claims a whopping 2975 deaths for Hurricane Maria in 2017. That’s a big difference. But as you might guess, the methodologies used to arrive at those figures were wildly different. If you want to compare apples to apples, you’re better off comparing Ian’s 144 out of Florida’s population of 21.5 million to Hurricane Maria’s original count of 64 direct deaths out of Puerto Rico’s population of about 3.5 million.
In its recent report evaluating the Trump Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights tried to compare the 2975 to much smaller numbers for Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida (both of which used the methodology used for Ian). My Commissioner Statement in the report explains why this was error.
To be fair, the 2975 methodology isn’t crazy. But it is a bit counter-intuitive. It looks to see how many “excess deaths” occurred during the six-month period following a natural disaster and assumes all of them are somehow disaster related, even if the connection is very, very loose. That may well be an incorrect assumption, but in the absence of an alternative explanation for why deaths would be elevated during that period, it may be an assumption worth making for comparison’s sake. The problem was that nobody has attempted to generate comparable figures for the other hurricanes.