US President Donald Trump has rejected the official conclusion that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico from last year’s Hurricane Maria.
President Trump argued without evidence that the number was wrong and called it a plot by Democrats to make him “look as bad as possible”.
As Hurricane Florence approached North and South Carolina, the President picked a fresh fight over the administration's response to the Category 4 storm that hit the US territory last September.
The President visited the island in early October to assess the situation amid criticism over the recovery efforts.
Mr Trump said: “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 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."
‘The victims do not deserve to be questioned about their pain’
Puerto Rico’s Governor last month raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975 after an independent study found that the number of people who died in the aftermath had been severely under-counted.
Previous reports from the Puerto Rican government said the number was closer to 1,400.
Mr Trump’s comments caused criticism from officials and residents on the island, where blackouts remain common, 60,000 homes still have makeshift roofs and 13% of municipalities lack stable phone or internet service.
Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Facebook post in Spanish, "the victims of Puerto Rico, and the people of Puerto Rico in general, do not deserve to be questioned about their pain".
Mr Rossello said he left the analysis of the deaths in the hands of experts and accepted their estimate as the official death toll.
He added: "I trust that this process was carried out properly.”