Trump claims Hurricane Maria death toll rose like magic

Donald Trump

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US President Donald Trump has rejected the widely accepted death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria and claimed without citing evidence that "3000 people did not die". He has visited the US island territory seven times since Maria hit last autumn.

A military intelligence assessment warned days after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico of a "high" potential for government failure on the island, new documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee reveal. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents South Florida and is retiring from Congress, took the lonely route of rebuking Trump.

"As the President said, every death from Hurricane Maria is a horror".

Trump said there were "6 to 18 deaths" shortly after the storm hit Puerto Rico in 2017. "Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000", he wrote.

Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm, caused an island-wide power outage, nearly completely knocked out communications including satellite phones and left 80% of the island without access to water in the days following the storm. "This study, commissioned by the Government of Puerto Rico, was carried out with complete independence and freedom from any kind of interference".

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More than 80,000 people were already without power as the storm began buffeting the coast, and more than 12,000 were in shelters. A 61-year-old woman died Friday night when her auto struck a tree that fell during the storm, state emergency officials said.

The original death toll was put in double digits, but recently a new study placed the "official" count at just short of 3,000.

The report compared predicted mortality under normal circumstances and deaths documented after Maria.

A United States government report published this month concluded that the federal response in Puerto Rico was hampered by a lack of trained staff as well as by major logistical challenges.

"We left this analysis to the scientists and experts, recognising that there would be many challenges, because we wanted to have a powerful and independent voice to minimise the uncertainty", he said in a video on Facebook.

Later in the morning, a spokesman for Republican Ron DeSantis, a close ally of the president, issued a statement Thursday that in part read: "He doesn't believe any loss of life has been inflated".

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State and local officials are responsible for establishing death tolls, not the federal government. "But I don't agree with a lot of stuff that he says about us". She then added, "It's sad to me that a natural disaster has to get political, I don't think President Trump is exclusively to blame for what happened, Puerto Rico had a number of its own problems before Maria even hit, they were filing for bankruptcy".

But the president choosing to "add salt to the wounds", as Pelosi described it, only underscored her message that the federal response to Hurricane Maria has been woefully inadequate.

This is not the first time Trump has tried to downplay the catastrophic hurricane, during his visit to the island soon after Maria hit, Trump said Puerto Ricans should be thankful it wasn't a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina.

Shortly after Trump's comments, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz shot back at the president. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, also a native of Puerto Rico, skipped the visit to gather supplies for relief from Hurricane Maria.

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