US President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected the official death toll from Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico, saying it had inflated to almost 3,000 as part of a ploy to make it look bad.
Trump's controversial comments provoked a rare bipartisan reaction, and even some members of his own party echoed the condemnation of the leaders of the Democratic opposition.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a veteran Republican congresswoman from Florida, said Trump "has a deformed mind that would turn this statistic into false news."
"It could be a new low," he said. "How can you be so self-centered and try to distort the truth so much?"
The true human cost of Maria and the chaotic federal response to the storm in the insular territory of the United States. UU They unleashed a year-long controversy, which Trump revived this week even as another powerful hurricane, Florence, pounced on the east coast.
"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico," Trump wrote Thursday afternoon. "When I left the island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had between 6 and 18 deaths."
"Then, a long time later, they started reporting really big numbers, like 3000 …", he said, going on to claim: "This was done by the Democrats to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising billions. of dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. "
"If a person died for some reason, such as old age, simply add it to the list."
Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, an independent investigation long awaited by George Washington University in the storm of 2017 concluded last month. Initially it was said that he killed only 64 people.
After almost a year of controversy over the figures, the governor of the island said that the new estimate would now be considered the official death toll.
George Washington University remained loyal to the science behind its findings, and called the figure 2,975 deaths "the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date."
Another study carried out by Harvard University and published in May estimated the death toll from the hurricane and its consequences could have been higher than 4,600.
Hurricane Florence is the first major test of the Federal Emergency Management Agency since its much-criticized response to Maria, which caused devastation when it hit Puerto Rico like a Category 4 storm a year ago.
A report from the US government UU Published this month, it concluded that the federal response in Puerto Rico was hampered by the lack of trained personnel, as well as the main logistical challenges.
But Trump has continued to brag about Maria's handling, calling it "an unbelievable hit," as he warned Carolinas residents not to take chances with Florence.
Chuck Schumer, the minority leader of the Senate, said Trump owed an apology to 3,000 families for "the shameful attack on his deceased compatriots."
The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, called the president's comments "delirious, paranoid and deranged of any sense of reality."
"Trump is so vain that he thinks it's about him, he is not," he said on his official Twitter account.
"Damn, this is not about politics, it was always about saving lives," he told NBC television. Cruz had previously described the federal response to the disaster in the US territory. UU As a "negligible act of negligence".
"If (Trump) does not learn from his mistakes, he will do them again and people will continue to die," he told CNN.
In Florida, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma last year and received thousands of Puerto Ricans fleeing the devastation of their homes, the Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis, who has developed his campaign around his adherence to the Trump's policy, tried to distance himself from the president's words.
DeSantis "does not believe that any loss of life has been inflated," his campaign said in a statement.
The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, has also criticized Trump for not providing additional federal funds that are still needed for emergency housing and debris removal.
Rosselló is a leader of the New Progressive Party in favor of the statehood of the island, which is aligned with the Republicans, while Cruz is from the Popular Democratic Party, whose members join the Democratic Party.
Maria destroyed Puerto Rico's power grid, leaving the island largely without electricity for weeks and paralyzing its health care system.