Donald Trump

‘3,000 people did not die’: Trump disputes Puerto Rico’s death toll from Hurricane Maria

US president claims ‘this was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 10:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 6:16am

US President Donald Trump disputed the number of deaths in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria on Thursday, saying “3,000 people did not die”, contradicting a public health report commissioned by the island.

In a posting on Thursday on Twitter, Trump questioned a George Washington University study, which found that 2,975 people died as a result of storms there last year and said the results were influenced by political rivals.

The study’s death toll far outstripped the previous official tally of 64, which took into account only those deaths immediately attributed to the storm, such as those caused by buildings collapsing and drownings. Improper death certificates also drove down that total, the report found.

Trump also lashed out on Wednesday at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, whom he called incompetent.

Cruz tweeted Thursday, “Simply put: delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality. Trump is so vain he thinks this is about him. NO IT IS NOT.”

She also tweeted, “Damn it: this is NOT about politics this was always about SAVING LIVES.”

On Wednesday, Trump posted: “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.”

Politicians from both parties quickly rejected Trump’s claims, which he made without evidence.

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said Trump “dishonours the living and the dead” with his baseless claim that 3,000 people did not die as a result of the hurricane.

She said Trump’s presidency was “the theatre of the absurd every day.”

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In a speech in Washington on Thursday, former US Vice-President Joe Biden made an apparent dig at Trump.

“By the way, there are no problems in America,” Biden deadpanned. “Everybody’s doing well. Things are fair and decent, and no one died in Puerto Rico.”

In a follow-up tweet on Thursday, Trump wrote: “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 missives kept alive Trump’s insistence that his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation on the US territory was a success as authorities prepare for Hurricane Florence to make landfall in the Carolinas on Friday.

Trump on Tuesday called his government’s response to Hurricane Maria an “unsung success”. He’s repeatedly defended federal efforts in the wake of Maria, a Category 4 storm that destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and left most of the island without power for weeks or longer.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Facebook video post on Thursday that there should no more questions about the number of deaths or the process used to arrive at the figure.

“The victims of Puerto Rico, and the people of Puerto Rico in general, do not deserve to be questioned about their pain,” he said. “It’s not a time to fight, to have political noise, to use these things for the benefit of one party or another. It is time to remember all those who lost their lives. It is time to acknowledge their pain and the sacrifice that everyone has made in the name of recovery.”