Trump questions validity of Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
September 13, 2018, 3:53:30 PM EDT

President Donald Trump on Thursday morning questioned the recent findings that estimated the death toll in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria's devastation last September was near 3,000 people.

"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..."

Trump blamed the high death toll number on Democrats, who he claimed were seeking to make him look bad.

"....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!"

Earlier this week Trump said "I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico," and "we're still helping Puerto Rico."

An independent report published by researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in late August, estimated that there were there were 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico.

The new report’s findings analyzed death certificates and other mortality data for six months from September 2017 and February 2018. The new death toll is 22 percent greater than the number of deaths that would’ve been expected during that period in a year without the deadly hurricane, according to the report.

The report was commissioned by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in light of mounting evidence that the low figure was a "gross misrepresentation” of the fatalities that had occurred, Vox reported.

"The results of our epidemiological study suggest that, tragically, Hurricane Maria led to a large number of excess deaths throughout the island,” said Carlos Santos-Burgoa, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator and a professor of global health at GW Milken Institute SPH, adding in a press release that lower-income citizens and the elderly faced the highest risk.

The study showed that the risk of death during the period from September 2017 to February 2018 was greatest – 60 percent higher than expected – for those living in poorer communities and that the elevated risk persisted beyond February.

Prior to the release of the report, the Puerto Rican government had maintained an official storm death toll of 64 people.

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However, even prior to the release of the George Washington report, Puerto Rico officials had quietly acknowledged that the number of 64 was not accurate.

trump puerto rico

In this Oct. 3, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump walks with FEMA administrator Brock Long, second from right, and Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, right, during a tour of an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

This past spring, researchers from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, concluded that between Sept. 20 and Dec. 31, 2017, there were 4,645 "excess deaths." The findings were published this past May in the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to the Associated Press, Rosselló said in a Facebook post Thursday that "the victims of Puerto Rico, and the people of Puerto Rico in general, do not deserve to be questioned about their pain."

House Democrats responded to the president's Twitter comments with a strong rebuttal.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, also took to Twitter to respond to Trump's comments, saying the storm response was about saving lives, not politics.

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