"I was there a long time, there was a transformer fire and the power went out, when they started dying then?" He said the death count had been inflated "by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible", by adding unrelated deaths to the toll from causes like old age.
Trump's tweets - which drew an offer from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello to explain the methodology and a request for "respect" for the death - came as first responders were rescuing people from homes in flooded-out towns in the Carolinas.
The death toll from Maria, the most powerful storm to hit there in nearly a century, was raised last month from 64, a number widely discounted as far too low, to 2,975.
"Physician unawareness of appropriate death certification practices. and the government of Puerto Rico's lack of communication about the death certificate process.substantially limited the count of deaths related to María". For a hurricane, direct deaths include people who drown in a storm surge or flooding, are hit by flying debris or crushed in a wind-toppled building.
"We all need to stop the blame game & focus on recovery, helping those still hurting & fixing the mistakes", he tweeted.
Trump said the number of deaths when he visited Puerto Rico after the storm was "from 6 to 18", even though news outlets were already reporting dozens, if not hundreds, of additional casualties that were likely uncounted.
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One year ago, FOX61 interviewed three sisters who were in tears after they finally got a phone call from their mother in Puerto Rico after not hearing from her for weeks after the hurricane ripped through their neighborhood.
That's why the official death toll remained relatively low until researchers could examine death records and gain a broader understanding of people's circumstances.
Trump's comment renewed criticism of the government's response to two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico a year ago.
You'll recall, Trump triumphantly arrived on the island a month after Maria. and touted the fact there were only "16 people certified" dead.
In this September 4, 2018 photo, Gloria Rosado Ortiz holds a photograph of her late husband Ernesto Curiel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 4, 2018. We still don't know for sure how many people died when the storm hit and because of the horrific flood in the few days after.
Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is also retiring, said: "There is no reason to dispute these numbers".
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Friday said she didn't want to dwell on the president's comments, but felt compelled to respond on behalf of hurricane victims.
Trump touted the federal government's response as "an incredible, unsung success" this week.