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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Researchers Study Extent and Causes of Deaths Post Hurricane Sandy

As government officials, relief workers, and residents continue to rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure after Hurricane Maria, Rutgers School of Public Health biostatisticians have discovered more about mortality rates and causes from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Their findings, “Hurricane Sandy (New Jersey): Mortality Rates in the Following Month and Quarter”, appear in a recent issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Hurricane Sandy was directly responsible for about 150 deaths, half of which were in the United States. These deaths typically are due to drownings from storm surge and are easily quantifiable. Indirect deaths, those not directly attributable to the storm, often result from household accidents following electrical outages or disruptions in ongoing medical treatment, and are more difficult to measure.

“Even though we live in a time when communities and residents can prepare in advance of dangerous storms, we can better target our efforts by studying the impact of past hurricanes on mortality,” said Dr. Soyeon Kim, senior research scientist at the Frontier Science Foundation (formerly associate professor of biostatistics, Rutgers School of Public Health). “Our data suggest that mitigation efforts and/or support services may be needed for at least the immediate quarter following a storm, especially among the elderly population and residents located in the most severely affected areas.”

To estimate the extent of indirect deaths and their causes in New Jersey, a state severely affected by Sandy from its southern tip to its northern apex, Dr. Kim and her colleague Dr. Amy Davidow, associate professor of biostatistics at the Rutgers School of Public Health worked with colleagues from the New Jersey Department of Health to compare the rates of all deaths and cause-specific deaths in New Jersey during the month and quarter following Sandy with deaths that occurred at the same time in previous years. Their findings include:

“Even today, five years after Sandy, some homes are still being rebuilt and residents have yet to return to their homes, thus the indirect effects of Sandy on mortality may have continued beyond the period we studied,” continued Dr. Kim. “It’s our hope that emergency planners, responders, and healthcare professionals consider these findings in planning response efforts for future natural disasters in other communities.”