Washington • President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected the widely accepted conclusion that nearly 3,000 died in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, arguing without evidence that the number was wrong and calling it a plot by Democrats to make him look bad.

As Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas, the president picked a fresh fight over the administration's response in Puerto Rico, tweeting: "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."

Trump 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."

Puerto Rico's governor last month raised the U.S. territory's official death toll from Hurricane Maria 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.

The estimate of nearly 3,000 dead in the six months after Maria devastated the island in September 2017 and knocked out the entire electrical grid was made by researchers with the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. The study says the original estimates were so low because doctors on the island had not been trained to properly classify deaths after a natural disaster.

The elderly and impoverished were hardest hit by the hurricane.