President TrumpTrump rejects storm death toll US President Donald Trump has rejected an official conclusion that around 3,000 people died due to the devastating hurricane that hit Puerto Rico a year ago.

Eye of the storm: An image taken from aboard the International Space Station shows Hurricane Florence approaching the east coast of the US States. Photo: Getty Images
Eye of the storm: An image taken from aboard the International Space Station shows Hurricane Florence approaching the east coast of the US States. Photo: Getty Images

Rachael Alexander in Washington

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  • Trump rejects storm death toll
    Independent.ie
    US President Donald Trump has rejected an official conclusion that around 3,000 people died due to the devastating hurricane that hit Puerto Rico a year ago.
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US President Donald Trump has rejected an official conclusion that around 3,000 people died due to the devastating hurricane that hit Puerto Rico a year ago.

Mr Trump said yesterday the death toll had only been 18 when he visited the US territory shortly after the storm, and claimed the higher figure had been inflated by the Democrats to “make him look bad”.

He made his comments on Twitter as a large swathe of America’s east coast was expected to be battered by Hurricane Florence today.

Brock Long, the head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), warned that Florence could “kill a lot of people”.

Florence was to be the first major test of FEMA since its response to the Puerto Rico disaster, which was widely criticised. In the year since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, the Puerto Rican government’s official death toll has risen several times.

Last month, it was placed at 2,975 after the government commissioned an independent study by public health experts at George Washington University. The study concluded the number of people who died in the months that followed the storm, because of its effects, had been underestimated.

But Mr Trump wrote on Twitter: “3,000 people did not die in the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from six 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 added: “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.”

Mr Trump said people who died for any reason – “like old age” – had been added to the total. Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Democrat mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico, called Mr Trump “delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality”. In Washington, senior Republicans distanced themselves from the president’s remarks.

Paul Ryan, the Republican house speaker, said he had “no reason to dispute” the death toll of 3,000. He added: “Casualties don’t make a person look bad. It was a horrible storm.”

Ahead of Florence striking the US east coast, Mr Trump spoke with political leaders in the Carolinas and offered “whatever is needed,” Sarah Sanders, the White House spokesman, said. Last night, winds from Florence began lashing coastal areas in the two states. The eye of the storm was expected to come ashore near Wilmington, North Carolina, where businesses were boarded up and streets deserted.

Tens of thousands of buildings were expected to be flooded, with up to 40 inches of rain in places, causing billions of dollars in damage.

Around 1.7 million people had been ordered to evacuate, airlines cancelled more than 1,000 flights to the area, and up to three million homes and businesses were expected to lose power.

“Get out of its way, don’t play games with it, it’s a big one, maybe as big as they’ve seen,” Mr Trump said. “We’ll handle it. We’re ready, we’re able. Protection of life is the absolute highest priority.”

Florence is forecast to dump up to a metre of rain in some areas after it makes landfall in North and South Carolina.

“This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding,” the NHC said.

Life-threatening storm surges rising up to four metres high were also being forecast in some areas along the coast, as well as the possibility of tornadoes in North Carolina.

“This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast,” said Jeff Byard, an associate administrator at FEMA. “This is not going to be a glancing blow,” he added, warning of power outages, road closures, infrastructure damage and potential loss of life. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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