Donald Trump has denied that nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, claiming that the figure contained in a study on the death toll was made up by Democrats seeking to undermine him.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Trump said the death toll was “anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths” in the immediate wake of the storm, and that as time went on, that figure “did not go up by much”.
“Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3,000,” Trump wrote, adding: “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.”
The comments drew immediate anger from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who called Trump’s claim “delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality”, the Independent says.
The White House issued a statement defending the comments, saying Trump was “responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations”.
Several senior Republicans including Paul Ryan and Florida governor Rick Scott, moved to distance themselves from Trump’s dismissal of research carried out by George Washington University.
The Washington Post says the US president has been “easily distracted this week by cable news commentary about his mismanagement of Maria”, while his administration worked to prepare for Hurricane Florence to hit the Carolinas.
White House staff have reportedly been using large, colourful charts during disaster briefings to provide education about hurricanes to Trump, because he is a “visual learner”.