In a Tuesday press update on Florence, he called his administration’s response to Maria an “unsung success,” while also falsely claiming Puerto Rico “had no electricity essentially before the storm.”
As Florence approached the Carolinas on Thursday morning, Trump’s frustrations over persistent Maria criticism boiled over on Twitter, where he floated a new conspiracy about the updated death toll: “This was done by Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible.”
Trump said the number of deaths when he visited Puerto Rico after the storm was “from 6 to 18,” even though news outlets were already reporting dozens, if not hundreds, of additional casualties that were likely uncounted.
Some outlets, for example, called Puerto Rico funeral homes and discovered far more deaths than initially reported.
A report from George Washington University and the University of Puerto Rico concluded on Aug. 29 that 2,975 likely died as a result of Hurricane Maria and the catastrophic conditions on the U.S. territory after the storm. Much of the island remained without electricity and running water for months after Maria hit, and many residents died while waiting for help.
To reach that conclusion, researchers analyzed death certificates and other reports from September 2017 through February 2018 and compared it to typical death rates for that time period and other historical patterns.
Trump said, “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico” adding, “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
But the study’s results have been embraced by Puerto Rico officials as likely accurate after months of standing by early reports of just 64 deaths. George Washington University said in a statement Thursday that it stood by the report.
The updated tally would make Maria one of the deadliest single-disaster events in recent U.S. history. An estimated 1,833 people died as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, while 2,996 died immediately or from injuries sustained in the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.