Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET
President Trump denied the death toll of nearly 3,000 from hurricanes Maria and Irma, which swept across Puerto Rico a year ago, in a series of tweets Thursday morning.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” he tweeted. “When I left the island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths.”
Trump then blamed Democrats for the figures, “to make me look as bad as possible.”
A study conducted by The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University determined the death toll to be 2,975, a figure accepted by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, and far beyond the previous official count of 64.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long wrote in a letter to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts that there were 2,431 applications for funeral assistance from Puerto Rico as of July 30. Just 75 have been approved by the Trump administration so far because of eligibility questions.
The president’s tweets came as the government prepares for Hurricane Florence’s impact on the Carolinas and set off a storm of criticism on Twitter. Chef José Andrés, whose charity fed thousands on the island in the aftermath of the storm, said Trump is “the face of no shame.”
Another Trump critic, and a target of his tweets, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, tweeted, “Trump is so vain he thinks this is about him.”
Some Republicans also criticized the president’s tweet. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate in a state where many Puerto Ricans moved after the devastating hurricanes, tweeted that he disagrees with Trump and that “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,” Scott continued, “the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching.”
The campaign of Rep. Ron DeSantis, a strong ally of Trump’s who is the GOP nominee for Florida governor, said in a statement, “[DeSantis] doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated.”
And House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said, “I have no reason to dispute these numbers.”
Ryan said the numbers were “a function of a devastating storm that hit an isolated island,” adding, “that’s no one’s fault.”
On Tuesday, Trump claimed his administration’s efforts in Puerto Rico were “an unsung success,” despite criticism that the federal response to the storms was slow. Some homes had their power restored only this month, a year after the hurricane.