Friday 20 July 2018

Deaths in Puerto Rico not a 'real catastrophe like Katrina' - Trump

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Jill Colvin

Donald Trump highlighted Puerto Rico's low death toll compared with "a real catastrophe like Katrina" as he opened a tour of the island's devastation yesterday, focusing on the best of the reviews he and his administration are getting rather than criticism of the federal response to Hurricane Maria.

The US president pledged an all-out effort to help the island but added: "Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that's fine. We've saved a lot of lives."

He said his visit was "not about me" but then praised local officials for offering kind words about the recovery effort and invited one to repeat the "nice things" she'd said earlier. He also singled out Governor Ricardo Rossello for "giving us the highest praise".

"Every death is a horror," he said, "but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here ... nobody's ever seen anything like this."

In Washington, Representative Luis Gutierrez noted that many people in more remote areas are still in dire straits and in need of food and water.

He told CNN: "Let's stop talking about the death count until this is over." It stands at 16 now, and 95pc of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals.

The most prominent critic in Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, attended Mr Trump's first event, in an airport hangar, shaking Mr Trump's hand as he went around a table greeting officials before sitting in the shadow of a hulking, grey military plane.

"How are you?" he asked. Her response could not be heard. He thanked her. Days earlier, Ms Cruz said the Trump administration was "killing us with the inefficiency," pleading for more effective federal leadership in the crisis.

Air Force One brought the president, first lady Melania Trump and aides to Puerto Rico in late morning. They were expected to spend more than five hours on the ground, meeting first responders, local officials and some of the 3.4 million people whose lives have been upended by a hurricane that, in the president's words, left the island US territory "flattened".

At least parts of the itinerary were drawn to ensure a friendly reception: Mr Trump was visiting the houses of pre-selected families waiting on their lawns.

The president also handed out flashlights at a church, where 200 people cheered his arrival and crowded around him getting pictures. "There's a lot of love in this room, a lot of love," Mr Trump said. "Great people."

Asked by the Associated Press what he had to say to people still without power, food and water, he spoke of the generators brought to the island and said the electrical grid was being fixed.

"Again the job that's been done here is really nothing short of a miracle," he said.

In the Playita neighbourhood in the heart of San Juan, a few miles from the air base where Mr Trump gave his upbeat report on progress, people cleaned sewer water from their homes and businesses, stacked fouled clothes in shopping carts and piled them on street corners alongside wet mattresses and broken metal roofs. They said they have seen no federal officials since Maria struck.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News