Brock Long, the Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), appeared on Fox News Sunday and defended President Trump’s controversial claim about the number of deaths in Puerto Rico that resulted from Hurricane Maria. He explained that there are a variety of estimates of the death toll and that they are “all over the place.” Because of this, he says, it’s hard to determine the actual number.
Nearly three weeks ago, George Washington University (GWU) released a report indicating that in the six months following Hurricane Maria, about 2,975 deaths were caused by the disaster. Puerto Rico identified this as the official death toll of the hurricane according to the Washington Post, making Maria the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. This was a dramatic increase from the previously reported 64 deaths because the GWU study included deaths that were the result of things like power outages, lack of accessible health care and drinkable water, diseases that emerged because of the devastation caused by the natural disaster, and other circumstances resulting from widespread infrastructure damage.
Thursday, as the country watched Hurricane Florence, President Trump took to Twitter to deny the count and blame Democrats for the increased death toll.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000…..This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
— The Hill (@thehill) September 16, 2018
On the Sunday broadcast of Meet the Press, Brock Long stated that a variety of academic studies have been conducted in an effort to calculate Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico and that the results of those studies are “all over the place.” NBC News reports that Long added that he believes Trump’s words were taken out of context. He explained that he, the president, and the secretary of homeland security met daily in the last week to discuss how to deal with Hurricane Florence and that they have sought to learn from what happened in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria. They try to determine the cause of deaths directly caused by wind, water, and building collapses. Long said that FEMA uses numbers provided and verified by local coroners. When asked to respond to Trump’s claim that the Democrats initiated the GWU study to make him “look as bad as possible,” Long said that he didn’t know why the study was requested.