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Mourners carry a coffin

Mourners in Puerto Rico carry the coffin of a man who died after Hurricane Maria, which an in-depth analysis links to more than 4,600 deaths on the island. Mario Tama/Getty

Epidemiology

Deaths from catastrophic storm vastly exceeded initial estimate

Survey results undermine Puerto Rico’s figure for deaths from Hurricane Maria.

The death toll from Hurricane Maria’s assault on Puerto Rico was more than 70 times higher than the official estimate.

Several months after the September 2017 disaster, Puerto Rico’s government said that Maria had killed 64 people on the island. To verify that number, Caroline Buckee at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, and her colleagues surveyed 3,299 randomly selected Puerto Rican households about household size and recent deaths. The resulting data allowed the researchers to calculate the mortality rate in the three months after the storm. The team then compared that rate with the rate over the same period in 2016.

The comparison suggests that 4,645 deaths were associated with the storm. One-third of survey respondents reported a Maria-related death caused by lack of medicine, inability to use respiratory equipment or another health-care gap.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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