Trump Downplays Puerto Rico's Suffering, Says It's Not A 'Real Catastrophe Like Katrina'
President Donald Trump landed on Puerto Rico on Tuesday, almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island and left many of its 3.4 million residents without power, water or food.
At his first stop, a briefing with federal and local officials, Trump lavishly praised them. He then repeatedly turned to individuals around the table and invited them to offer their own praise — while insisting, “It’s not about me.”
When Puerto Rico’s governor told Trump that 16 people had been reported dead so far, the president lauded officials and compared the storm to “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”
“Sixteen people versus in the thousands,” Trump said. “You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everyone around this table, and everyone watching, can be very proud of what’s taking place in Puerto Rico.”
Trump also appeared to joke about the cost of the storm damage.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” he said.
Officials around the table applauded several times, but San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, whom Trump has repeatedly attacked online, did not applaud, “keeping her hands clasped in front of her,” according to a White House pool report.
The trip comes after Trump repeatedly bragged about his administration’s response to the disaster, blamed the U.S. territory for its debt crisis and called Cruz as “nasty” for criticizing the government’s sluggish relief efforts.
Trump, who visited Texas twice in the days following Hurricane Harvey and headed to Florida four days after Hurricane Irma, said last week that he delayed visiting Puerto Rico “because of the first responders, and we don’t want to disrupt the relief efforts.”
Tensions were high ahead of the president’s visit.
Trump ignited a feud with the island’s residents and leaders, saying they wanted “everything to be done for them” after Cruz begged for additional aid.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” he wrote on Twitter.
We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates,...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
...people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
Trump contends his administration has done a “great job with the almost impossible situation.” Puerto Rico, he noted, was already facing crippling debt before the storm. He said Texas and Florida were “doing great” in the aftermath of hurricanes that hit both states last month.
As he departed the White House on Tuesday morning, Trump again lauded the federal response, despite the continued suffering of residents and criticism from officials like Cruz.
“I think she’s come back a long way,” Trump said of Cruz. “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done. In Texas and Florida, we get an A-plus. And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation.”
Trump again said that “at a local level, they have to give us more help,” while praising the “incredible job” of federal officials.
“Whether it’s her or anybody else, they’re all starting to say it,” Trump said.
Following his briefing on Tuesday, Trump visited with storm victims. He again praised officials for doing “a fantastic job,” as residents showed him the storm’s damage to their homes, pointing out broken windows and power outages.
“We’re going to help you out,” he told them. “Have a good time.”
But conditions in Puerto Rico remain dire.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has shipped millions of gallons of water and meals to Puerto Rico, but the island no longer has the infrastructure to deliver it.
Puerto Rican officials said last week that they were unable to move aid across the island without electricity and fuel. And until last week, shipments of goods to the island were restricted due to the Jones Act, a law that slaps shipping costs onto Puerto Rico. Trump on Thursday allowed a temporary exemption.
As of Monday, all 10 of Puerto Rico’s airports were open, and about 37 percent of people had cellphone service, according to the Department of Defense. Two Navy ships are due to arrive Tuesday with more supplies.
Still, almost all of Puerto Rico is without electricity, and about half the population lacks drinking water.
This article has been updated with details from Trump’s visit.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that all 10 of the island’s hospitals had reopened. It has since been corrected to reflect that the island’s airports have all been reopened, not hospitals.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.