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Fury over Donald Trump dismissing Puerto Rico hurricane death toll

Donald Trump is facing a backlash for disputing the official number of dead in hurricanes in Puerto Rico last year.

Referring to hurricanes Maria and Irma, Mr Trump had said on Twitter: “3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico.”

He claimed the Democrats were behind the figure in order to politically discredit him.

The president said: “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!”

Congressman Luis Gutierrez said the president was “delusional”.

He said: “With 3,000 people dead, for the president to say that Puerto Rico was a success, a triumph of his presidency is simply delusional.

“And now he denied that they are even dead.”

Mr Gutierrez, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, was involved in the US territory’s recovery operation.

Florida governor Rick Scott, a Republican, also lashed out, saying an independent study said thousands were lost and that the island still remained devastated.

He added in a tweet: “The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching.”

George Washington University researchers are standing by their study that concluded the death toll following Hurricane Maria was 2,975.

They said the study had been commissioned by the Puerto Rico government and was carried out “with complete independence and freedom from any kind of interference”.

Dr Carlos Santos-Burgoa, the lead researcher on the study, said: “We are scientists. We are public health people.

“We are committed to the health of the population. We try to reach the truth, and we try to understand what is damaging the people in order to prevent disease.”

Mr Trump, referring to Hurricane Florence which is about to hit America’s east coast within hours, tweeted earlier this week: “We got A Pluses for our current hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan).”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said the president’s comments “added insult to injury”.

Up to a quarter of a million people were displaced and much of the island was without power for several months.

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