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WASHINGTON — As Hurricane Florence bore down on the U.S. on Thursday, President Donald Trump angrily churned up the devastating storm of a year earlier, disputing the official death count from Hurricane Maria and falsely accusing Democrats of inflating the Puerto Rican toll to make him “look as bad as possible.”

Public health experts have estimated that nearly 3,000 perished because of the effects of Maria. But Trump, whose efforts to help the island territory recover have been persistently criticized, was having none of that. He said just six to 18 people had been reported dead when he visited two weeks after the storm and suggested that many had been added later “if a person died for any reason, like old age.”

Trump’s jarring comments, coming as the East Coast braced for a massive storm, offered fresh evidence of his resistance to criticism and his

insistence on viewing large and small events through the prism of his own success or failure.

Offering up a fresh conspiracy

theory, he said of the Puerto Rico count, “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.”

Out of line: Even some Republicans suggested the president had gone too far.

“Casualties don’t make a person look bad,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, breaking with the president. “So I have no reason to dispute those numbers.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who talks to Trump often, said, “I don’t think it’s bad to say we could have done better in Puerto Rico.”

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

Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate, tweeted: “I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic.” A spokesman for former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who won the Florida GOP primary for governor with Trump’s support, said the congressman did not agree with Trump’s tweets.

Puerto Rico’s governor last month raised Maria’s official death toll from 64 to 2,975 after an independent study found that the number of people who succumbed in the sweltering aftermath had been severely undercounted. Trump dismissed the findings Thursday, tweeting: “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list.”

When Trump visited in October 2017, two weeks after the storm hit, the death toll at the time was indeed 16 people. 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. That study — conducted by George Washington University — estimated 2,975 deaths.

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