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Trump's false claim on Puerto Rico deaths

CNN's Alisyn Camerota dives into President Trump's tweet asserting the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was much lower than reality.

Posted: Sep 14, 2018 8:59 AM
Updated: Sep 14, 2018 9:19 AM

Nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Donald Trump denied this reality as a hurricane barrels toward the Carolinas.

"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," he said in a tweet Thursday morning as Carolinians prepared to be pummeled by Hurricane Florence.

After Trump received backlash from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers over this false claim, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley released a statement Thursday that said, "As the President said, every death from Hurricane Maria is a horror. Before, during, and after the two massive hurricanes, the President directed the entire Administration to provide unprecedented support to Puerto Rico."

"President Trump was responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations," the statement read.

Earlier this month, the island's governor formally raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975 from 64 following a study conducted by researchers at The George Washington University. CNN's own reporting reflects similar numbers. The university study accounted for Puerto Ricans who succumbed to the stifling heat and other aftereffects of the storm and had not been previously counted in official figures. Much of the US territory was without power for weeks.

Top Republicans broke from Trump's assessment.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he has "no reason to dispute those numbers."

"Casualties don't make a person look bad, so I have no reason to dispute these numbers," he said Thursday.

"It was devastating. It was a horrible storm. I toured the entire island. It's an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and power for a long time, you couldn't get to people for a long time," Ryan said.

"I have no reason to dispute those numbers," he added. "Those are just the facts of what happened."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is locked in a tight Senate race, also split from Trump.

"I disagree with @POTUS-- an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I'll continue to help PR," he tweeted.

Trump has consistently denied any fault for his administration in the aftermath of the storm. In fact, the President has instead sought praise for his handling of Hurricane Maria, saying earlier this week that it was "an incredible, unsung success."

Seeking praise

His comments run counter to how many locals and experts have assessed the federal government's response.

"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful," Trump said Tuesday in the Oval Office, noting that the island location is "tough" during a hurricane due to the inability to transport vital equipment and supplies by truck. "It was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about."

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal critic of the administration's handling of the storm, has cast blame on the federal government for failing to provide adequate assistance in the aftermath of the storm, and she slammed Trump's assertion Tuesday.

"In a humanitarian crisis, you should not be grading yourself. You should not be just having a parade of self-accolades. You should never be content with everything we did. I'm not content with everything I did, I should have done more. We should all have done more," Cruz told CNN's Anderson Cooper later Tuesday evening.

"But the President continues to refuse to acknowledge his responsibility, and the problem is that if he didn't acknowledge it in Puerto Rico, God bless the people of South Carolina and the people of North Carolina," Cruz said.

Trump administration officials admit fault

While the President has frequently praised the government response in the year since the hurricane, others in the administration have acknowledged learned lessons.

Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office released a report that revealed FEMA had been so overwhelmed with storms by the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico that more than half of the workers it was deploying to disasters were known to be unqualified for the jobs they were doing in the field.

And FEMA Administrator Brock Long has said FEMA made changes to some of its priorities and procedures.

"We made a lot of changes in real time in addition to the high-level efforts that we learned through our after-action process. Bottom line is, we are concentrating on what we call critical lifelines -- health, safety, security. You know, we've got food, shelter, health and medical, power and fuel, communications, transportation, hazardous waste," he told reporters on a conference call on Hurricane Lane preparations last month.

"We are hyper-focused on those seven critical lifelines because we realized last year that if any one of those lifelines goes down, then life safety is in jeopardy. And so, we're reorganizing the firepower of the federal government underneath these critical lifelines, we're pushing forward," Long added.

Trump also alleges partisan ploy

In a second tweet Thursday, Trump cast blame on Democrats, who he said are trying to make him look bad.

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

The death toll study was commissioned by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, a member of Puerto Rico's "New Progressive Party." It was conducted by the nonpartisan George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health.

There has been no evidence to indicate that partisan politics has played a role in the calculation of the death tally, and George Washington University released a statement Thursday that said it stands by its work.

Rosselló told CNN on Thursday that the Puerto Rican government is "confident" in the results of the study and that he has no reason to believe the estimate was part of an effort by Democrats to undermine the President.

"There's no reason to doubt the validity of these studies, no reason to expect -- even though it's an estimate -- that it's not far away from what the accurate toll should be," Rosselló said.

He also said that "the victims nor the people of Puerto Rico deserve to have their pain questioned."

"The moment is not to have political bickering or to argue about other things that are not important, but rather to focus on the pain and remember those who lost their lives and focus on rebuilding the future," the governor added.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN's request for clarification on Trump's claim of the billions of dollars raised.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 749097

Reported Deaths: 13745
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1030271775
Lake554211006
Allen41613691
St. Joseph36933564
Hamilton36505416
Elkhart29347459
Tippecanoe22849225
Vanderburgh22540400
Porter19313325
Johnson18386387
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Clark13190193
Madison13111344
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Monroe12152175
Delaware10947197
Howard10250225
Kosciusko9609119
Hancock8541144
Bartholomew8158157
Warrick7854156
Floyd7763180
Grant7227179
Wayne7154201
Boone6911103
Morgan6735141
Dubois6211118
Marshall6205116
Cass5989108
Henry5893108
Dearborn588878
Noble579786
Jackson508374
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Lawrence4727121
Gibson444093
Harrison440473
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Steuben398659
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Ohio57811
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1107047

Reported Deaths: 20091
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1284921459
Cuyahoga1155972204
Hamilton812991245
Montgomery524821040
Summit48339999
Lucas43303817
Butler38901603
Stark33286929
Lorain25641502
Warren24557303
Mahoning22330601
Lake21135385
Clermont20097252
Delaware18817135
Licking16645222
Fairfield16561204
Trumbull16522479
Medina15593270
Greene15252246
Clark14219306
Wood13280197
Portage13226214
Allen11905239
Richland11598211
Miami10835223
Wayne9116222
Columbiana9020230
Muskingum8889135
Pickaway8649122
Marion8635138
Tuscarawas8633247
Erie8052164
Ashtabula7137179
Hancock6996131
Ross6933161
Geauga6832150
Scioto6528104
Belmont6149174
Union583849
Lawrence5722102
Jefferson5669158
Huron5539122
Sandusky5436125
Darke5415129
Seneca5343126
Washington5308109
Athens523360
Auglaize501587
Mercer487385
Shelby476195
Knox4567112
Madison443765
Ashland435197
Putnam4333103
Fulton431871
Defiance431798
Crawford4033110
Brown401961
Logan387277
Preble3847103
Clinton378466
Ottawa372681
Highland359265
Williams347578
Champaign343658
Guernsey324153
Jackson317354
Perry297150
Morrow291340
Fayette285450
Hardin274865
Henry273267
Holmes2698101
Coshocton268359
Van Wert247264
Adams242856
Pike242735
Gallia240450
Wyandot234556
Hocking220162
Carroll196748
Paulding176342
Meigs148240
Monroe136144
Noble135839
Harrison113638
Morgan109624
Vinton85417
Unassigned03
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