Trump disputes estimate of Puerto Rico storm deaths

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The government of Puerto Rico officially announced in August the death toll from Hurricane Maria as 2,975, making it the most severe natural disaster in the island's history.

Trump's comments also reignited a longstanding feud between the San Juan mayor and Trump; the president fired back, calling her "totally incompetent" and saying the USA government "did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico".

With Hurricane Florence forecasted to make landfall in the Carolinas as soon as Thursday, reports also came in last night that the Trump administration had transferred $10 million from FEMA to pay for ICE detention centers.

In two tweets posted on Thursday, Trump wrote: "3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico".

Especially upset were GOP politicians in Florida, a state with a substantial Puerto Rican population.

"Casualties don't make a person look bad", House Speaker Paul Ryan said, breaking with the president. Throughout the week, the president has repeatedly defended his administration's efforts in Puerto Rico, calling it it an "incredible, unsung success" and renewed his verbal spat with Cruz, the San Juan mayor. "So I have no reason to dispute those numbers". "The loss of any life is tragic".

"If he thinks the death of 3,000 people is a success, God help us all", said Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of the capital San Juan, responded on Twitter.

A spokesman for former USA representative Ron DeSantis, who won the Florida Republican primary for governor with Mr Trump's support, said he did not agree with the president's tweets.

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Florida was already home to more than 1 million Puerto Ricans before Hurricane Maria slammed into the island territory almost a year ago.

In a second tweet Thursday, Trump cast blame on Democrats, who he said are trying to make him look bad. He said just six to 18 people had been reported dead when he visited two weeks after the October 2017 storm and suggested that many had been added later "if a person died for any reason, like old age".

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".

"They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever", Trump said of the states in the storm's path. The number was later raised to 64, but the government then commissioned an independent study to determine how many died because of post-storm conditions.

Puerto Rico's government is run by the New Progressive party, a pro-statehood, Puerto Rico-only party.

The president's tweets came just one day after Nelson launched a new Spanish-language ad that features pictures of Trump and Scott together and says in Spanish "tell me who you hang out with, and I will tell you who you are".

She continued, "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 SC and the people of North Carolina".

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, whose parents were Puerto Rican immigrants, spoke on the House floor in front of a printout of the Puerto Rican flag, saying Trump is "delusional" and incapable or "empathy or basic human decency".