Donald Trump has continued to insist the death toll when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico is incorrect and has been deliberately inflated to discredit him.
Building on comments he made earlier in the week in which he said “3,000 people did not die”, the President on Saturday said the number appeared “like magic” and there was “no way” it could be accurate.
The death toll figure was actually the result of a months-long intensive scientific study conducted by epidemiologists, a demographer, a public health nutritionist, environmental health scientists, two public health research assistants, an anthropologist, a behavioural scientist and two health communication experts.
Trump caused outrage this week when he said without any evidence the 3,000 death toll was a move by Democrats to make him look “as bad as possible”.
He said: “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…”
The President was indeed told when he visited Puerto Rico shortly after the disaster that the death toll was relatively low but the island’s governor raised it from 64 to 2,975 after the independent study found the number of people who died in the aftermath had been severely under-counted.
Researchers attributed undercounting of storm-related deaths to poor communications and the lack of well-established guidelines and training for physicians on how to certify deaths in major disasters.
The emergency response to Maria became highly politicised as the Trump administration was castigated as being slow to recognise the gravity of the devastation and too sluggish in providing disaster relief to Puerto Rico, an island of more than 3 million residents.
The storm made landfall with winds close to 150 miles per hour on 17 September and plowed a path of destruction across the island, causing property damage estimated at $90 billion (£68.8 billion) and leaving much of the island without electricity for months.