Watch CBS News

President Trump Disputes Hurricane Maria Death Toll In Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBSNews) -- President Donald Trump is defending his administration's response to the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico last year, disputing new findings that Hurricane Maria killed far more people than initially believed. It's the latest defense since Trump on Tuesday claimed that federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was an "unsung success."

"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..." he tweeted Thursday.

In a subsequent tweet, Trump claimed that the reporting 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!," he added.

House Democrats responded to the accusation on twitter, saying "President Trump won't acknowledge the thousands of Americans who died on his watch. And even worse, Republicans have no interest in holding this administration accountable and ensuring that Congress is prepared to respond to these disasters."

According to independent analysis commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico and conducted by researchers at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health, an estimated 2,975 more deaths than average were recorded on the island from September 2017 to February 2018, compared to the government's first estimate of 64 deaths as a result of the hurricane.

More From CBS News

The death records were provided by the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Records division of the Puerto Rico Department of Health. The study found that those in low-income areas, and elderly men, were at greatest risk of dying as parts of the island remained without power and electricity for months after the storm.

San Juan mayor and frequent Trump critic Carmen Yulín Cruz tweeted in response to the president, "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!"

The president's comments come as his administration prepares to battle yet another potentially life-threatening storm with Hurricane Florence approaching the Carolina coast. Trump appeared confident that the federal response would be on par to his other "A pluses" in Texas and Florida, assuring those in the path of the storm: "We'll handle it, we're ready, we're able."

(© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.