President Trump on Thursday morning accused the Puerto Rican government of lying about the death toll from Hurricane Maria, attributing the recently increased death toll to a conspiracy orchestrated by his political opponents.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump tweeted. “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…”
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…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
In a follow-up tweet, Trump blamed Democrats for the hurricane deaths.
“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,” Trump said. “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
…..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. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
The hurricane death toll of 2,975 did not come directly from the government of Puerto Rico, but was endorsed by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello following a study conducted by George Washington University researchers.
CNN, citing comments from Gov. Ricardo Rossello, notes that the revised death toll “is only an approximation, not a concrete list of names.”
As ThinkProgress detailed at the time of the latest study’s release:
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, covered the period from when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017 through February 2018.
According to the analysis, the risk of dying during this period was 60 percent higher for those living in the poorest municipalities and 35 percent higher for male Puerto Ricans aged 65 or older. And this risk persisted beyond the end of the study in February, researchers said.
Following the release of the study Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló told CBS News’ David Begnaud Tuesday afternoon that he accepts the study’s findings which show a death toll significantly higher than the Puerto Rico government’s official number of only 64 deaths.
The George Washington study represents a relatively conservative estimate. A different study from a Harvard researcher estimated the death toll could be as high as 8,000.
Trump’s tweets on Wednesday come a day after he claimed on Twitter his government did “an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan.”
On Monday, Trump went as far as to claim that the response to Hurricane Maria was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.”
Trump on lessons learned from last year's hurricane in Puerto Rico, where the federal govt initially drastically undercounted the death toll of nearly 3,000 people: "I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful…I actually think it was 1 of the best jobs that's ever been done." pic.twitter.com/kNLO3qYWvU
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 11, 2018
But the response effort wasn’t as successful as Trump would have Americans believe.
During an MSNBC interview held shortly after the death toll was revised upward, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz pinned blame directly on Trump for many of the Hurricane Maria deaths.
“We died because bureaucracy and inefficiency took a hold of things,” she said. “We died because many in the political class in Puerto Rico decided to dance to Donald Trump’s tune rather than doing what everybody ought to do, which is tell the truth, no matter how might the person you’re telling the truth to seems.”
While Trump has repeatedly insisted that the island electricity infrastructure was barely functional before the storm, Cruz told MSNBC that the president is “simply is lying through his teeth… We had electricity before Maria came.”
“This is just like telling somebody that’s gone through a fire that it’s their fault that they didn’t run fast enough,” she added. “You left us here to die because you were more concerned about the political spin than about the human reality that we were dying.”
FEMA says it moved what may be millions of water bottles to a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico to save taxpayers money pic.twitter.com/b4RPaMRiCF
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) September 13, 2018
On Tuesday, a number of outlets reported on new photos that appear to show “millions of water bottles meant for [Hurricane Maria] victims still sitting on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, more than one year after the storm,” as CBS put it. A FEMA spokesperson told CBS on Thursday morning that “it turns out those were excess water bottles” that “were not needed during the response phase.”
Trump made a bizarre visit to Puerto Rico days after Hurricane Maria hit the island. During his trip, Trump delivered off-pitch comments thanking Rossello for not criticizing him, downplayed the devastation wrought by Maria in comparison with a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina, admonished hurricane victims to “have a good time,” and shot rolls of paper towel into a crowd at a chapel like a team mascot does at sporting events.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 12, 2018
In the wake of Trump’s tweets about the Puerto Rico death toll, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said his comments are “a new low” and represent his “warped mind.”
“How could you be so self-centered and try to distort the truth so much?” she added, according to Politico.