Trump disputes Puerto Rico hurricane death toll
US President Donald Trump is disputing that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico after the island was hit by two hurricanes last year.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, without offering evidence for the claim.
He added that Democrats had inflated the official death toll to “make me look as bad as possible”.
The official figure was released last month after an independent study.
On Thursday, Mr Trump wrote in a pair of tweets that Democrats were attacking him “when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico”.
The Republican president suggested the hurricane death toll was artificially inflated by adding those who passed away from natural causes such as old age.
“Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!” he tweeted.
Mr Trump’s tweets came as Hurricane Florence – a category two storm projected to bring catastrophic flooding – bears down on the US East Coast.
Where does the official death toll come from?
A George Washington University study in July found that 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, which struck the island territory in September 2017.
The governor of Puerto Rico, who commissioned the research, said he accepted the estimate as official.
The study concluded that the initial death toll of 64 only included those killed directly by hurricanes Maria and Irma – either by drowning, flying debris or building collapse.
George Washington University also counted those who died in the six months following the storm as a result of poor healthcare provision and a lack of electricity and clean water.
Repeated power cuts also led to an increased number of deaths from diabetes and sepsis.
Last May, Harvard University public health researchers estimated the death toll was even higher.
They said about 4,600 people died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane from delayed medical care.
What have Puerto Rican officials said?
In response, the Mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, tweeted: “Mr Trump you can try and bully us with your tweets BUT WE KNOW OUR LIVES MATTER.”
“You will never take away our self respect. Shame on you!”
Earlier this week, after Mr Trump hailed the US response in Puerto Rico as “tremendous” and “an incredible, unsung success”.
Ms Cruz shot back: “If he thinks the death of 3,000 people is a success God help us all.”
Last month she described Mr Trump’s handling of Maria as a “stain on his presidency”.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello said in a statement this week that Maria was “the worst natural disaster in our modern history.
“Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of our people lost their lives and many others still struggle.”
Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the US, is home to some 3.3 million people.