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Trump disputes death toll in Puerto Rico, wrongly accusing Democrats of inflating numbers

House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected Trump’s assertion Thursday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected Trump’s assertion Thursday.

President Donald Trump is disputing the official death toll in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, even after an independent report placed the number in the thousands.

In a tweet on Thursday, as Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the Carolinas, Trump said that the death toll in Puerto Rico was less than two dozen after his October 2017 visit to the island following the storm, and wrongly accused Democrats of inflating the numbers to make him look bad.

But an independent report by researchers at George Washington University commissioned by the Puerto Rican government and released last month found that nearly 3,000 more deaths than expected occurred in the months after the storm. Puerto Rico’s governor raised the official death toll from 64 to 2,975 in the wake of that report.


Researchers attributed the discrepancy to the methodology used by doctors to complete death certificates in the wake of the storm.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, many Puerto Ricans were left without access to food, water, or medical care. And power was not fully restored until many months after the storm ended.

Congressional leaders and others quickly jumped on Trump’s remarks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected Trump’s assertion Thursday.

The Wisconsin Republican said he had ‘‘no reason to dispute’’ a study that found nearly 3,000 people on the island died from Hurricane Maria last year.

However, Ryan also denied the figure reflects poorly on Trump, saying, ‘‘casualties don’t make a person look bad.’’

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Facebook video post in Spanish that there should be no more questions about the number of deaths from Hurricane Maria and the process used to arrive at that number.

“The victims of Puerto Rico, and the people of Puerto Rico in general, do not deserve to be questioned about their pain,’’ Rossello said. ‘‘It’s not a time to fight, to have political noise, to use these things for the benefit of one party or another. It is time to remember all those who lost their lives. It is time to acknowledge their pain and the sacrifice that everyone has made in the name of recovery.’’


Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor San Juan and a frequent Trump critic, called the president “delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality” in a tweet on Thursday.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.