In a pair of tweets, the president accused Democrats of making up “really large numbers” of deaths to make him “look as bad as possible.” There is no evidence to support his claim.
“When I left the island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths,” Trump tweeted about his first and only visit to Puerto Rico after hurricanes Irma and Maria pummeled the island in September 2017.
During his visit to the island, Trump had suggested Puerto Ricans were lucky Hurricane Maria wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like 2005′s Hurricane Katrina.
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...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
.....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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
The Puerto Rican government revised Hurricane Maria’s official death toll from 64 to 2,975 last month following the study, which was conducted by researchers at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
The Milken Institute defended its study in a statement Thursday.
“We stand by the science underlying our study,” the statement said. “This study, commissioned by the Government of Puerto Rico, was carried out with complete independence and freedom from any kind of interference.”
“Our results show that Hurricane Maria was a very deadly storm, one that affected the entire island but hit the poor and the elderly the hardest,” the statement continued. “We are confident that the number — 2,975 — is the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date.”
Still, as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, Trump has called the federal government’s response to the storms in Puerto Rico an “unsung success.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who pleaded with Trump to send additional aid in the aftermath of the historic storms, hit back at the president’s death toll denial on Thursday.
“People died on your watch,” Cruz tweeted. “YOUR LACK OF RESPECT IS APPALLING!”
This is what denial following neglect looks like: Mr Pres in the real world people died on your watch. YOUR LACK OF RESPECT IS APPALLING! pic.twitter.com/OJEDqT74Sr— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) September 13, 2018
Puerto Rican officials have said they always expected the death toll to be higher than 64, which they initially estimated using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention methodology, according to a statement released by Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety in August.
“We always anticipated that this number would increase as more official studies were conducted,” Héctor Pesquera, the department’s secretary, said in the statement. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló ordered an independent study of the death toll in January because he said that “CDC guidelines proved insufficient to account for mortality in the worst natural disaster Puerto Rico has ever seen.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Thursday tweeted that he “disagreed” with Trump’s eyebrow-raising denial of the death toll.
“An independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed,” Scott tweeted. “I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching.”
I disagree with @POTUS– an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I'll continue to help PR— Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) September 13, 2018
In a statement Thursday, Rosselló slammed Trump’s death toll denial and condemned “anyone who would use this disaster or question our suffering for political purposes.”
“The people of Puerto Rico deserve a full accounting of the impact of the storm, and they deserve recognition of that impact by our president,” Rosselló said. “I asked the president to recognize the magnitude of Hurricane Maria ... Good government means a commitment to transparency and rectifying mistakes made.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló fires back at Trump's Hurricane Maria death toll denial in new statement:— Hayley Miller (@hayleymiller01) September 13, 2018
"It is not time to deny what happened. It is time to make sure that it does not happen again." pic.twitter.com/wTxiSZ4DDc
Rosselló, during an appearance earlier Thursday on CBS News, blasted the federal government for providing more resources to Floridians and Texans affected by hurricanes than to Puerto Ricans.
“We are second-class U.S. citizens,” Rosselló said. “We live in a colonial territory. It is time to eliminate that. I implore all of the elected officials, particularly now with midterm elections, to have a firm stance: You’re either for colonial territories or against it. You’re either for giving equal rights to the U.S. citizens that live in Puerto Rico or you’re against it.”
"How can [the U.S.] be the standard bearer of democracy in the world if we don't value democracy in our own backyard?," Gov. Rossello says. "After the storm, it was evident that the treatment given in Florida or Texas was very different than the treatment given in Puerto Rico." pic.twitter.com/KWpokjBKyK— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 13, 2018
Erika Larose and Julie Piñero contributed reporting.
This article has been updated to include Rosselló’s statement.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.