President Trump on Tuesday sung the praises of his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria last fall, calling it an “an incredible, unsung success.”
“The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico I think was tremendous,” Trump told the press in the Oval Office as residents in the country’s southeast and mid-atlantic regions prepare for Hurricane Florence this week. “I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.”
Puerto Rico was devastated last year first by Hurricane Irma and later by the even more serious Hurricane Maria, which knocked out the island’s electrical grid, leaving it without power for months. The Puerto Rican government originally claimed only 64 people died as a result of the hurricanes, but last month updated the death toll to around 3,000. The updated number came after studies from George Washington University and Harvard found the death toll to be dozens of times higher than the original 64.
The Trump administration took heat from critics for its response to the disaster, some accusing the federal government of favoring victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas over victims in Puerto Rico, which was hit by Irma and Maria a month later. The president blamed the island’s slow recovery on logistical difficulties caused by its lackluster infrastructure and its location.
“I think probably the hardest one we had by far was Puerto Rico because of the island nature. I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about,” Trump said. “Puerto Rico got hit not with one hurricane but with two.”
Florence, currently a Category 4 hurricane, is expected to hit the Carolinas directly late Thursday or early Friday, and will pose a particular danger to residents of coastal areas along the eastern seaboard. Tropical Storm Isaac is also incoming and is expected to hit near Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Service said.
“We do not want to see Hurricane Isaac hit Puerto Rico,” Trump said. “That’s all we need. But we have a big hurricane out there, and it’s sort of skirting along Puerto Rico, on the edge of Puerto Rico. That would not be good.”