UPDATE – Trump denies Puerto Rico death toll as Florence nears


By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump denied Thursday the official death toll from Hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico last year as another massive storm nears the American mainland.

He wrote, "3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico," on Twitter, without presenting any evidence to support his claim.

The president blamed Democrats, whom he said inflated the number "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," he said.

The president’s tweets drew a swift response from the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan.

”Simply put: delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality. Trump is so vain he thinks this is about him. NO IT IS NOT,” said Carmen Yulin Cruz. “Damn it: this is NOT about politics this was always about SAVING LIVES.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan further told reporters there is "no reason" to dispute Puerto Rico's figures.

Trump has come under significant criticism for his handling of the crisis that continues to wrack Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island in September and October 2017.

When he went to the island shortly after Hurricane Maria wrought mass devastation in October 2017, Trump drew consternation for throwing recovery supplies at victims and has continued to face criticism for the slow pace of recovery on the U.S. territory.

Puerto Rico recently revised its official death toll from Maria from 64 to 2,975 after it commissioned George Washington University to conduct an independent study on the storm's aftermath. The higher number was developed following a months-long inquiry that took into account Maria's impacts on the island after the storm.

Large swaths of the island were left without basic services such as water and electricity, major roads were blocked and areas flooded in the wake of Maria. The island is still recovering.

Trump's dismissal of the official figure comes as residents along the U.S. east coast brace for Hurricane Florence. The massive storm is predicted to bring crippling flood waters and storm surges starting in the Carolinas on Thursday before moving southward.

Its exact path remains a mystery, but more than 1 million people, mostly living on the coast, have been ordered to evacuate.