Trump calls Puerto Rico hurricane response 'incredible, unsung success' - despite almost 3,000 deaths

'It was one of the best jobs ever done with respect to what this is all about'

Andrew Buncombe
Washington DC
Tuesday 11 September 2018 17:23 BST
Donald Trump calls government's response to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria a 'incredible unsung success'

Donald Trump has claimed his government’s response to the hurricanes that tore though Puerto Rico last year was an “incredible, unsung success”, despite the fact that almost 3,000 people lost their lives.

Briefing reporters about the government’s preparations for Hurricane Florence, a category four storm bearing down on the US’s East Coast, the president was asked about his administration’s handling of two storms that impacted Puerto Rico last year – Hurricane Irma that largely avoided the island but left one million people without power, and Hurricane Maria which was the most devastating storm to hit in decades.

A recent report by Puerto Rico’s governor raised the official death toll from 64 to 2,975. The study accounted for Puerto Ricans who succumbed to the stifling heat and other aftereffects of the storm and had not been previously counted in official figures. Much of the US territory was without power for weeks, CNN said

“I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” said Mr Trump said, saying that the island’s location made it “tough” during a hurricane. “It was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

In truth, Mr Trump has been widely criticised for the slow, faltering response to dealing with the storm in Puerto Rico, especially compared to the way it dealt with Hurricane Harvey when it struck Houston, Texas.

The president was accused of caring less for the residents of the island, despite them being US citizens.

Schoolkids scream with joy as electricity returns to their school in Puerto Rico

The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, went on television to plead: “Save us from dying.” Mr Trump exchanged barbs with her and called her a weak leader.

The UN said the US government’s response had been inadequate for a population of 3.5m people. “We can’t fail to note the dissimilar urgency and priority given to the emergency response in Puerto Rico, compared to the US states affected by hurricanes in recent months,” said Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing.

Hurricane Maria hit on September 20 2017, and in addition to the death toll, is estimated to have caused $100bn in damage.

Asked what the government had learned from dealing with that storm, Mr Trump said the island’s electrical grid had been in a bad shape before the hurricane hit. Referring to the state of the power grid in the Carolinas and Virginia, he said: “Unlike Puerto Rico they have have very strong power companies. They are going to do a great job.”

“Puerto Rico got hit not with one hurricane, but with two. And the problem with Puerto Rico is their electric grid and their electric-generating plant was dead before the storms ever hit. It was in very bad shape, it was in bankruptcy. Had no money, was largely closed,” he said.

“And when the storm hit they had no electricity, essentially before the storm and when the storm hit that took it out entirely,” the president continued. “The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico I think was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.”

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