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As Florence hammers the Carolinas, FEMA director seems to echo Trump's skepticism of Puerto Rico death toll

As Florence hammers the Carolinas, FEMA director seems to echo Trump's skepticism of Puerto Rico death toll
Members of the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4 from Oakland search a flooded neighborhood in Fairfield Harbour, N.C., for evacuees on Friday. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

President Trump, who spent some of the last week forcefully questioning the officially accepted death toll of nearly 3,000 last year in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, said Sunday that no effort would be spared in helping those affected by storm Florence in the Carolinas.

“FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are working really hard on hurricane Florence,” Trump tweeted. “As the storm begins to finally recede, they will kick into an even higher gear. Very Professional”

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FEMA director William “Brock” Long, meanwhile, seemed to echo the president in casting doubt on an independent study by George Washington University researchers released in late August that formed the basis for the estimated toll of 2,975 that has been accepted by Puerto Rico’s government.

Earlier estimates of Hurricane Maria-related deaths were far lower for the island of about 3.3 million people, a United States territory where residents are U.S. citizens at birth. Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 20, 2017.

Interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” Long said it was “hard to tell what’s accurate” regarding the death toll. “There’s a lot of issues with numbers being all over the place,” he said.

Trump claimed last week on Twitter, without offering any evidence, that the Puerto Rico toll was inflated by Democrats “in order to make me look as bad as possible.”

Long avoided comment on the particulars of that claim, but suggested that indirect deaths sometimes skewed record keeping.

The study by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health compared the island’s death rates in prior years with those in the six months after the storm hit, when there was prolonged loss of power and access to medical treatment.

“You might see more deaths indirectly as time goes on,” Long said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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