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More than a month after Hurricane Florence devastated NC, the deaths continue

Drone video of flooding in Lumberton

Aerial view on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 as the city of Lumberton braces for the rising waters of the Lumber River in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
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Aerial view on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 as the city of Lumberton braces for the rising waters of the Lumber River in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

The official death toll for Hurricane Florence in North Carolina has risen to 41, after a 69-year-old man in Robeson County whose home was damaged in the storm took his own life, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

State officials are being more careful to count deaths that may be indirectly caused by the storm, including people who died during evacuations or cleanup. The man in Robeson County is the second suicide on the list, after an 82-year-old Carteret County man who was reportedly distraught over the loss of his home from the storm.

The latest death is remarkable in that it took place Oct. 22, a month after the last death attributed to Florence, which made landfall on Sept. 14. The death toll in North Carolina had been steady at 40 since Oct. 8, when a 68-year-old Onslow County man who died of “natural disease exacerbated by storm cleanup” on Sept. 20 was added to the list.

The medical examiner’s office did not release any details about the Robeson County man or his death, other than to say that his home had also been damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

In the past, government officials were likely to count only deaths that were directly caused by a storm, such as someone who drowned or was hit by a falling tree. But last fall, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a reference guide for counting deaths after a natural disaster that it said would help eliminate “inconsistencies” that made it difficult to produce reliable and accurate information about the number of people who died and how.

State officials say they’re using the guidelines, which include indirect deaths that occur because of unsafe or unhealthy conditions at any phase of the disaster, including preparation and cleanup. These may not initially be seen as related to the storm and may take longer to count.

The two suicides fall into this category. Among the other indirect deaths blamed on Hurricane Florence in North Carolina is an 81-year-old man who fell and struck his head while packing to evacuate his home in Wayne County.

Motor vehicle deaths were the most common after Florence, with 16 people killed in crashes or by drowning when their car or truck was submerged in flood waters.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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