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The US territory has asked Congress for $139bn in recovery funds

US President Donald Trump is disputing official findings that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of last year’s storms.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, without offering evidence for the claim.

He accused Democrats of inflating the official death toll to “make me look as bad as possible”.

The official figure was released last month after an independent study.

On Thursday, Mr Trump tweeted that Democrats were attacking him “when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico”.

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Media captionMonths after Maria, many on this US island still suffered in the dark

The Republican president suggested the hurricane death toll was artificially boosted by adding those who had passed away from natural causes such as old age.

“Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!” he tweeted.

Mr Trump’s tweets came as Hurricane Florence – a category two storm projected to bring catastrophic flooding – bore down on the US East Coast.

Where does the official death toll come from?

A George Washington University study in July found that 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, which struck the island territory in September 2017.

The governor of Puerto Rico, who commissioned that research, said he accepted the estimate as official.

The study concluded the initial death toll of 64 only included those killed directly by hurricanes Maria and Irma – either by drowning, flying debris or building collapse.

George Washington University also counted those who died in the six months following the storm as a result of poor healthcare provision and a lack of electricity and clean water.

Repeated power cuts also led to an increased number of deaths from diabetes and sepsis.

Last May, Harvard University public health researchers published a study that estimated the death toll was even higher.

They said about 4,600 people died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane from delayed medical care.


Will there be political consequences?

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC Washington

Donald Trump simply can’t abide criticism of his performance as president. How else to explain his decision, as a hurricane looms off the US coast, to call adjusted Puerto Rican death-toll figures from Hurricane Maria a Democratic-inspired plot against him?

The politics of the Thursday-morning tweets are rough. The president has guaranteed coverage of the government response to Florence will be intermixed with talk of his feud with Puerto Rico officials and questions about the veracity of his assertions.

Mr Trump’s dismissive attitude toward the loss of life also risks the ire of the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have relocated to Florida and can cast ballots in that state’s key races in November’s mid-term elections.

The president, with some justification, has said the situation in Puerto Rico after Maria was exacerbated by the island’s remote location and pre-existing infrastructure issues, such as an antiquated power grid.

That could have been a reason to do more to help these American citizens. Instead, the recovery effort has devolved into a political tug-of-war that now includes debate over “legitimate” deaths from this tragedy.


What have Puerto Rican officials said?

In response, the Mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, tweeted: “Mr Trump you can try and bully us with your tweets BUT WE KNOW OUR LIVES MATTER.”

“You will never take away our self respect. Shame on you!”

Earlier this week, Mr Trump hailed the US response in Puerto Rico as “tremendous” and “an incredible, unsung success”.

Ms Cruz shot back: “If he thinks the death of 3,000 people is a success God help us all.”

Last month she described Mr Trump’s handling of Maria as a “stain on his presidency”.

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Mountainous communities and fishing villages in Puerto Rico are still suffering one year later

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello said in a statement this week that Maria was “the worst natural disaster in our modern history.

“Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of our people lost their lives and many others still struggle.”

Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the US, is home to some 3.3 million people.

What’s the US political reaction?

Even Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans, who rarely speak out against him, have been critical of his comments.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is currently running for the US Senate, says he disagreed with the president’s tweets.

“I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand,” he tweeted. “The loss of any life is tragic.”

Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress, called Mr Trump’s tweets “mind-boggling”.

She said it is a “warped-mind that would turn this statistic into ‘fake news'” and it “may be a new low” for the president.

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is also retiring, said: “There is no reason to dispute these numbers”.

“This is a devastating storm that hit an isolated island. And that’s really no one’s fault. It’s just what happened.”

New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that Mr Trump “can’t govern via conspiracy theory”.

Other Democratic lawmakers were equally scathing.

Why were 20,000 pallets of water left on a runway?

The US federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria has come under fresh scrutiny this week.

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Abdiel Santana

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Some 20,000 pallets of bottled water were left on the runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico

Photos have surfaced showing what appear to be millions of water bottles meant for victims still sitting on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, a year after the storm.

But a senior Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) official told CBS News that “if [Fema] put that water on that runway there will be hell to pay” and the agency would “fess up to it”.

The General Services Administration (GSA) in Puerto Rico said there were 20,000 pallets of bottled water on the runway.

The GSA chief for Puerto Rico, Ottmar Chavez, said he only became aware of the bottled water on Tuesday.

He said he has no idea how it got there, why it is there, or how long it has been there.

Mr Chavez said his agency had received complaints about the taste and smell of the water, and that Fema should accept responsibility.

Puerto Rican officials have previously blamed mismanagement of hurricane relief on Fema, whereas President Trump has charged Puerto Rican officials with incompetence.



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