DONALD Trump has disputed the official death toll from Hurricane Maria last year, and falsely accused Democrats of inflating the Puerto Rican count to make him “look as bad as possible”.

Public health experts have estimated that nearly 3000 people died because of the effects of Maria. But the president, whose efforts to help the island territory recover have been persistently criticised, said just six to 18 people had been reported dead when he visited two weeks after the storm.

He also suggested that many had been added later “if a person died for any reason, like old age”. He said of the Puerto Rico death toll: “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.”

Even some Republicans suggested the president had gone too far. “Casualties don’t make a person look bad,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “So I have no reason to dispute those numbers.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley commented: “President Trump was responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations.”