‘You can be very proud’: Trump praises hurricane relief in Puerto Rico
The opposition Democrats have accused the Trump administration of a slow and inadequate response to disaster relief on the island, a US territory in the Caribbean battered by two major hurricanes last month.
“I've been to Puerto Rico many times and the weather is second to none but sometimes you get hit – and you got hit," Trump said on Tuesday, attending a briefing at the Muniz Air National Guard Base.
The visit by the president and First Lady Melania Trump comes as local and federal officials are working to restore power and deliver food and supplies to the island’s 3.4 million residents.
The administration is preparing to ask Congress for $13 billion in aid for Puerto Rico and other areas hit by natural disasters, congressional sources told Reuters. It is estimated that recovery will likely cost more than $30 billion.
“I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget out of whack – because we have spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine, we’ve saved a lot of lives,” Trump said. “Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who died, and if you look at here, that was really a storm that just totally overpowered, never seen anything like this… What is your death count? Sixteen people versus in the thousands? You can be very proud of all your people, all of our people.”
The latest death toll stood at 24, as authorities struggled to re-establish communications and transport on the island. Wind and flooding damage from hurricanes Maria and Irma had destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid, leaving millions without power.
“Before we were hit by Maria, it was FEMA acting together and all the staff working together, during and after, and they continued to stay here through Maria,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, who represents Puerto Rico in the US Congress. “We are used to hurricanes but never before a Category 5, but all the time federal government [has been] by our side.”
The comments by González-Colón and previous praise by Governor Ricardo Rosselló have stood in stark contrast with the statements made by Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of San Juan.
Cruz, a Democrat, blasted Trump on CNN last week, saying the government’s lack of help amounted to “genocide.”
“If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” she said Friday, touching off a Twitter feud with Trump.
Cruz met with Trump on Tuesday and the two exchanged pleasantries.
Before leaving Washington, Trump told reporters that the roads in Puerto Rico were cleared and communication capabilities were coming back on the island.
He said the mayor had “come back a long way,” since her criticism, but was still critical about the local response, pointing out that many supplies are still sitting on the docks without trucks that would deliver them inland.
“Their drivers have to start driving trucks,” he said. “So on a local level, they have to give us more help. But I will tell you – the first responders, the military, FEMA, they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico.”
Trump is due to meet with survivors of the disaster in Puerto Rico on Tuesday and take a helicopter tour to view the destruction. He is scheduled to visit Las Vegas, Nevada on Wednesday, to meet with survivors and families of the victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting.
Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 20 as a Category 4 storm, with wind gusts of 113 mph (182 km/h) and rainfall peaking at 38.9 in (962 mm) and leading to widespread flooding.