FEMA Administrator Brock Long on Trump’s Puerto Rico Death Toll Tweets: Numbers Are ‘All Over the Place’

FEMA Administrator Brock Long appeared on Meet the Press this morning to talk about Hurricane Florence response, and at one point Chuck Todd pressed him on what President Donald Trump has been saying about Puerto Rico. Todd brought up comments Trump made a few days ago and said, “The President went off and sort of didn’t accept the premise that there were lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico? Were there lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico for you, sir?” Long started by saying Trump’s been “taken out of context” there. He told Todd, “FEMA was the first responder and the only responder for many weeks going into Puerto Rico.” He talked about working with the governor before Todd brought up Trump’s tweets disputing the 2,975 death toll, which most recently included this: Todd told Long the White House “put out a five-page backgrounder citing other death toll numbers” and asked if FEMA accepts the 2,975 number as the Puerto Rican government did. “The numbers are all over the place,” Long responded. “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. Now, what we do our are funeral benefits after a disaster for those who are eligible. And so those are some of the numbers you can put forward that can be cross-referenced with any other numbers that are out there. But here’s the thing. These guys are so dedicated, they work around the clock, one death is a death too many.” Todd jumped in to ask, “Why does it matter? Why is the White House so concerned about the difference between 3,000 deaths and another report that might have had it at 1,800 deaths? You’ve said yourself it doesn’t matter, but the White House believes it matters. Why?” Long said Trump is defensive because “he knows how hard these guys behind me workday in and day out in a very complex situation.” He also said “it’s frustrating” and added that “the numbers are all over the place.” Long continued on to talk about the issue of indirect deaths:
“What happens, even in this event, you might see more deaths indirectly occur as time goes on because people have heart attacks due to stress, they fall off their house trying to fix their roof. They die in car crashes because they went through an intersection where the stoplights weren’t working… Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can’t blame spousal abuse after a disaster on anybody. The president’s very passionate about the work we’ve done, he’s been incredibly supportive of me and the staff. I bet he’s the only president who’s held two cabinet level meetings… to show support. They come through this agency every day, he’s very supportive. Which is exactly what FEMA needs, there’s too much blame going around and we need to be focused, Chuck, on what is Puerto Rico going to look like tomorrow.”
Watch above, via NBC. [image via screengrab]

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