President Donald Trump’s press conference to update on U.S. plans to prepare for what could be a category 5 Hurricane Florence has created its own weather pattern after he referenced the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year as “incredibly successful.”
His comments come as Florence gains speed in the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to make landfall on the eastern seaboard early Friday morning. More than 1 million people in the coastal cities of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under mandatory evacuation orders owing to the expected storm surge and winds, with 20-30 inches of rain expected. Flooding danger is expected into next week from Pennsylvania to Georgia.
But most of the takeaway from the preparedness presser at the Oval Office with Trump and FEMA Administrator Brock Long was via Trump’s response to questions about Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, where an estimated 2,975 died after the storm hit last September (the original death toll was reported to be 64.)
Asked by a pool reporter what lesson was there to be taken from what happened there, Trump jumped in.
“Well, I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” he said. “Puerto Rico was, actually, our toughest one of all because it’s an island, so you just — you can’t truck things onto it. Everything is by boat. We moved a hospital into Puerto Rico — a tremendous military hospital in the form of a ship. You know that.”
Later, he said the response to Puerto Rico “was an incredible, unsung success.”
“Texas, we had been given A-plusses for. Florida, we’ve been given A-plusses for. I think, in a certain way, the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean, it’s harder to understand. It was very hard — a very hard thing to do because of the fact they had no electric. Before the storms hit, it was dead, as you probably know. So we’ve gotten a lot of receptivity, a lot of thanks for the job we’ve done in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was very important.”
The remarks pricked up the ears of media and media watchers.
Nearly 3,000 people died.
That is not a “success.” That is a tragedy and a disgrace. https://t.co/sqoFhZlVb3
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 11, 2018
The current death toll for Puerto Rico – revised upward from 64 initially – is now estimated at roughly the same as those on Sept. 11, 2001. https://t.co/JsptEzlubE
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 11, 2018
"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful," POTUS says when asked about the lessons of Hurricanes past. "I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done….Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success."
Death toll was 2,975 https://t.co/BDB1M82gDY
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) September 11, 2018
I mean this seriously, not as a political dig.
If you’re in Florence’s path and considering riding it out, your President just said that a hurricane response where 3,000 die is his measure of success.
Get out of there.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 11, 2018
I just hope that the people from the Carolinas won't be treated the same way @realDonaldTrump treated the victims of hurricane María in Puerto Rico. Trump said it was an "unsung success". But it is estimated 2,975 people died. What kind of success is that?? https://t.co/13fEBlbYnk
— JORGE RAMOS (@jorgeramosnews) September 11, 2018
The U.S. government was criticized last year for its response in Puerto Rico to Maria compared with the response in the U.S. to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, with the image of Trump famously tossing rolls of paper towels to a crowd in a shelter in San Juan. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal critic, reacted swiftly to Trump’s comments today.
Success? Federal response according to Trump in Puerto Rico a success? If he thinks the death of 3,000 people os a success God help us all.
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) September 11, 2018
Currently Florence is a category 4 hurricane with winds in excess of 140 mph extending 60 miles from the storm’s eye.
Trump said he has been talking with state governors and that the U.S. was prepared for its landfall. “They haven’t seen anything like what’s coming at us in 25, 30 years — maybe ever,” Trump said. “It’s tremendously big and tremendously wet.”