Trump disputes estimate of Puerto Rico storm deaths

US president Donald Trump has disputed the official death toll from Hurricane Maria last year, and falsely accused Democrats of inflating the Puerto Rican count to make him “look as bad as possible”.

Public health experts have estimated that nearly 3,000 people died because of the effects of Maria. But Mr Trump, whose efforts to help the island territory recover have been persistently criticised, said just six to 18 people had been reported dead when he visited two weeks after the storm.

He also suggested that many had been added later “if a person died for any reason, like old age”.

Mr Trump’s comments come as the US east coast braces for another massive storm in Hurricane Florence.

He said of the Puerto Rico death toll: “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.”

Even some Republicans suggested the president had gone too far.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>People are still living in damaged homes in the Viequez area, of San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP)</figcaption>
People are still living in damaged homes in the Viequez area, of San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP)

“Casualties don’t make a person look bad,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “So I have no reason to dispute those numbers.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: “I don’t think it’s bad to say we could have done better in Puerto Rico.”

He also said he thought Mr Trump “sees every attack on him as sort of undercutting his legitimacy”.

Especially upset were Republican politicians in Florida, a state with a substantial Puerto Rican population.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected Mr Trump’s claims (AP)</figcaption>
House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected Mr Trump’s claims (AP)

Governor Rick Scott, who is running for the US senate, tweeted: “I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic.”

A spokesman for former US representative Ron DeSantis, who won the Florida Republican primary for governor with Mr Trump’s support, said he did not agree with the president’s tweets.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Florida governor Rick Scott also spoke out against Mr Trump (AP)</figcaption>
Florida governor Rick Scott also spoke out against Mr Trump (AP)

The White House defended the president.

Spokesman Hogan Gidley said: “As the president said, every death from Hurricane Maria is a horror. Before, during, and after the two massive hurricanes, the president directed the entire administration to provide unprecedented support to Puerto Rico.

“President Trump was responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations.”

- Press Association

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