Friday, September 21, 2018

Rejecting Puerto Rican death toll, Trump accuses democrats of inflating it

  • >>Eileen Sullivan, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Nicholas Fandos, The New York Times
    Published: 2018-09-14 15:43:34 BdST

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US President Donald Trump walk through a neighbourhood damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, US, Oct 3, 2017. The New York Times

President Donald Trump on Thursday falsely accused Democrats of inflating the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, rejecting that government’s assessment that the storm had claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

Trump said that the toll was only six to 18 dead after his visit following the storm but that was at a time when the estimate of fatalities was changing. It rose to 34 in the hours after the president left the island. Trump on Thursday said Democrats padded the death toll by including, for example, a person who died of old age “in order to make me look as bad as possible.”

The president’s comments came as the government prepared for Hurricane Florence, whose high winds were already beginning to batter the coast of the Carolinas.

The federal government’s response to the storm that hit Puerto Rico has been viewed as inadequate — full power was restored to homes in August.

Puerto Rico’s leadership and several leading Republicans in Congress took issue with the president disputing the estimated number of deaths in Puerto Rico tied to Hurricane Maria.

“We strongly denounce anyone who would use this disaster or question our suffering for political purposes,” said Gov Ricardo Roselló. “I ask the president to recognise the magnitude of Hurricane Maria and continue working with my government to ensure a full recovery of the American citizens of Puerto Rico. We cannot allow the devastation of our citizens to be questioned and we cannot allow response efforts to be politicised.”

Fatalities from the storm had been officially recorded as 64 for nearly a year, despite convincing evidence that the figure was too low because official death certificates had failed to take into account the long-range impacts of the storm. The National Hurricane Centre, a federal agency, called the death toll “highly uncertain” in an April report and noted “hundreds of additional indirect deaths.”

In August, after a thorough review, Puerto Rican officials accepted a revised estimate of the dead as 2,975. Lawmakers — Republican and Democrat — have accepted those findings.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, sidestepped questions about the issue Thursday

© 2018 New York Times News Service