President Donald Trump, in a bizarre and inaccurate pair of Tweets on Thursday morning, implied the official death toll in Puerto Rico after last year’s hurricanes were wrong.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” he wrote. “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…”
Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosselló, on August 28, hiked the number of fatalities from Hurricane Maria to 2,975. At the time, the White House did not dispute the numbers.
Trump, in a follow up Tweet on Thursday, blamed Democrats for the number, saying it was increased “in order to make me look as bad as possible.” Trump then boasted about “successfully raising” billions of dollars to rebuild the territory.
Initial death tolls for Maria were set at 64, but many observers expressed doubts at that number as the territory’s medical and transportation infrastructure was insufficiently prepared for the storm.
In August, the number was revised upward to 1,400. The figure of 2,975 came from a study by George Washington University, which incorporated the longer-term effects of the natural disaster, such as low-income residents and elderly people who didn’t have access to adequate food, water, and other resources to begin with.
Trump is seemingly ignoring the aftereffects of the storm in his tweet and focusing only on deaths attributable to things like flying debris, drowning and structures that collapse.
Trump visited Puerto Rico on October 3 of last year, when the death toll was estimated to be 16, comparing the storm favorably to Katrina saying “Sixteen versus in the thousands.” Soon after he left he island, that estimate was raised to 34.
Trump’s comments also come just days after he claimed Puerto Rico’s hurricane aid was “incredibly successful.” While the administration has been accused of a lackluster response to the crisis and failing to meet requests from local officials and Congress, Trump told White House pool reporters this week: “I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”
Trump’s claims come hours before Hurricane Florence is expected to impact the east coast and bring life-threatening winds and flooding.