Trump falsely claims nearly 3,000 Americans in Puerto Rico 'did not die'

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 9/13/2018, 11:19 a.m.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Donald Trump denied this reality as ...
President Trump

By Betsy Klein, CNN

(CNN) -- Nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Donald Trump denied this reality as a hurricane barrels toward the Carolinas.

"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 said in a tweet Thursday morning as Carolinians prepared to be pummeled by Hurricane Florence.

Earlier this month, the island's governor formally raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975 from 64 following a study conducted by researchers at The George Washington University. CNN's own reporting reflects similar numbers. The university study accounted for Puerto Ricans who succumbed to the stifling heat and other aftereffects of the storm and had not been previously counted in official figures. Much of the US territory was without power for weeks.

Top Republicans broke from Trump's assessment.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he has "no reason to dispute those numbers."

"Casualties don't make a person look bad, so I have no reason to dispute these numbers," he said Thursday.

"It was devastating. It was a horrible storm. I toured the entire island. It's an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and power for a long time, you couldn't get to people for a long time," Ryan said.

"I have no reason to dispute those numbers," he added. "Those are just the facts of what happened."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is locked in a tight Senate race, also split from Trump.

"I disagree with @POTUS-- an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I'll continue to help PR," he tweeted.

Trump has consistently denied any fault for his administration in the aftermath of the storm. In fact, the President has instead sought praise for his handling of Hurricane Maria, saying earlier this week that it was "an incredible, unsung success."

Seeking praise

His comments run counter to how many locals and experts have assessed the federal government's response.

"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful," Trump said Tuesday in the Oval Office, noting that the island location is "tough" during a hurricane due to the inability to transport vital equipment and supplies by truck. "It was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about."

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal critic of the administration's handling of the storm, has cast blame on the federal government for failing to provide adequate assistance in the aftermath of the storm, and she slammed Trump's assertion Tuesday.