“The difference is that we went out and we had boots on the ground and we did the interviews,” said Domingo Marqués, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, who was among the report’s authors.
“Statistically, it’s like having interviewed the whole island,” he said.
Still, the exact death toll is likely to remain a mystery.
In a news conference on Tuesday, Hector Pesquera, head of Puerto Rico’s public safety department, said the government did not have reason to question the latest estimates, which come from researchers at Harvard University as well as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the University of Colorado and universities in Puerto Rico.
“The Government of Puerto Rico welcomes the newly released Harvard University survey and we look forward to analyzing it,” Carlos R. Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, said in a press release.
The Harvard study says the Puerto Rican and US governments did not provide adequate services, including electrical power and medical assistance, after the hurricane. It also notes that Puerto Rican officials have refused to make public basic mortality statistics.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees disaster recovery, has said it encountered unique logistical challenges on the island after the storm that make comparisons between the response to Maria and other storms problematic.