FEMA Administrator Brock Long Defends Trump’s Criticism of Puerto Rico Death Toll Study

Brock Long speaks with Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. / NBC News

FEMA Administrator Brock Long Sunday questioned the relevance of independent studies tying thousands of deaths to the aftermath of last September’s hurricane in Puerto Rico, echoing President Donald Trump’s criticism of those findings as Florence continues to batter the Carolinas.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Long defended the president for his response to Hurricane Maria last year and argued that findings from multiple academic studies were “all over the place.”

“I think the president is being taken out of context there,” Long said. “I mean, I talked to the president every day this week, and the secretary of homeland security, and we discuss what we’re trying to do as a result of last year.”

“I don’t know why the studies were done,” Long said when asked about Trump’s claims that the study was “done by Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible.”

“What we’ve got to do is figure out why people die from direct deaths, which is the wind, the water and the waves, buildings collapsing,” Long said.

“The numbers are all over the place. FEMA doesn’t count deaths. And if you take what’s going on with Florence, the deaths that are verified by the local county coroners are the ones that we take.”

A George Washington University study, which was specifically targeted by the president in recent days, linked an estimated 2,975 deaths to last year’s Hurricane Maria. The Puerto Rican government commissioned that study for more than $300,000.

While the study’s finding was far higher than the initial death count of 64, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has accepted the George Washington analysis and declared that higher toll a “fact” in a statement this week in response to Trump’s criticism.

Earlier studies have estimated different death tolls, some higher than the George Washington study and some lower. But all estimates are above that initial count of 64 deaths.

On Sunday, Long attempted to distinguish the direct deaths from “indirect deaths,” arguing that there was only a tenuous link between those and the hurricane and the federal government’s response.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Ben Kamisar