WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Oct 3) told officials in Puerto Rico that they should be proud that only 16 people died in Hurricane Maria, compared with the “thousands” killed in “a real catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina.”
“Sixteen versus in the thousands,” Mr Trump said, during his first visit to the island after the storm, after asking one of the officials what the death count was.
“You can be very proud of your people and all of our people working together.”
Hurricane Katrina claimed 1,833 lives. Officials in the Trump administration have often compared the relief efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico to the George W. Bush administration’s response to Katrina in 2005.
But the mayor of San Juan, Ms Carmen Yulín Cruz, complained that the response in Puerto Rico fell short of that in Texas or Florida.
In Puerto Rico, Mr Trump’s schedule will limit his exposure to the public. He was briefed by local officials in a hangar at the Luis Muniz Air National Guard Base, then met with storm victims at an undisclosed location, before heading to a Navy amphibious assault ship for meetings with the governors of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The White House asked the governor of the Virgin Islands, Mr Kenneth E. Mapp, to fly to Puerto Rico because of the logistical complications of having the President and his entourage travel to those islands, parts of which have been severely damaged.
The President has become more comfortable with these visits, after travelling to Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Florida after Hurricane Irma. On Tuesday, he wore his now-familiar uniform: a blue windbreaker with the presidential seal and white baseball cap, emblazoned with the letters USA.
First Lady Melania Trump accompanied the President, as she has on previous visits to storm-ravaged areas. She wore a navy blue sweater and pants, and stiletto heels, as she left the White House. But, as on earlier trips, she changed while en route into more practical boots and her own baseball cap.
Since the weekend, Mr Trump has sharply scaled back his Twitter posts about the hurricanes or other potentially fraught issues. But speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he continued to emphasise the government’s performance rather than the plight of the victims.
“In Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus,” he said.
“And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico."
“The first responders, the military, Fema – they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico,” Mr Trump continued.
“And whether it’s her or anybody else,” he said, referring to Ms Cruz, “they’re all starting to say it.”