(CBS) – President Trump is defending his administration’s response to the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico last year, disputing new findings that Hurricane Maria killed far more people than initially believed. It’s the latest defense since Mr. Trump on Tuesday claimed that federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was an “unsung success.”

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. 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…” Mr. Trump tweeted.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump step off Air Force One upon arrival at Luis Muñiz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017.
Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria, much of the islands remained short of food and without access to power or drinking water. (credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

In a subsequent tweet, Mr. Trump claimed that the reporting 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.”

US President Donald Trump meets with US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp in the Ward Room aboard the USS Kearsarge, off Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. (credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

“If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!,” he added.

According to the independent analysis commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico and conducted by researchers at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, an estimated 2,975 more deaths than normal were recorded on the island from September 2017 to February 2018, compared to the government’s first estimate of 64 deaths as a result of the hurricane.

A man walks past a house laying in flood water in Catano town, in Juana Matos, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017.
The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain.
(credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

The study explains that the initial tally only took into account deaths directly attributed to causes like flying debris, floods and drownings — not the increase in mortality from other causes related to the storm and conditions in its aftermath.

Sister Gloria Flores checks in on a patient at the Hermanitas de los Ancianos Desamparados facility which cares for the elderly as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 26, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Sister Flores said she hoped aid — including fuel for the facilities generators, as well as food and medicine — would arrive as they care for their more than 195 elderly patients after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, devastated the island. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“Damaged infrastructure and power and telecommunication outages presented major challenges” for residents, medical workers and officials to report these deaths at the time, the report states.

Destruction in Puerto Rico left behind from Hurricane Maria. (credit: CBS)

The death records were provided by the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Records division of the Puerto Rico Department of Health. The study found that those in low-income areas, and elderly men, were at greatest risk of dying as parts of the island remained without power and electricity for months after the storm.

In an interview with CBSN Thursday, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello addressed the president’s comments: “I have to say that neither the people of Puerto Rico nor the victims, deserve their pain to be questioned.”

Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico speaks with President Donald Trump during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on October 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Trump and Rossello spoke about the continuing recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. (credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

He also pushed back against the administration’s account of its response to Hurricane Maria: “There could be no ‘fantastic’ response as long as we are treated as second class citizens.”


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