Donald Trump has rejected the widely accepted Puerto Rico hurricane death toll, saying without evidence that “3,000 people did not die”.
Trump called the death toll a move by Democrats to make him look “as bad as possible”.
The US president tweeted on Thursday as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas.
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…”
Puerto Rico’s governor raised the US territory’s official death toll from last year’s Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975 after an independent study found the number of people who died in the aftermath had been severely under-counted.
By comparison, deaths blamed on Hurricane Katrina in 2005 range from about 1,200 to more than 1,800, most along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi.
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 and leaving much of the island without electricity for months.