President Donald Trump called the U.S. government’s response to Puerto Rico in wake of Hurricane Maria last year an “unsung success” Tuesday, which was met by jarring criticism from island officials and others after nearly 3,000 deaths.
Trump made the comments at the White House while discussing the preparedness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as monster Hurricane Florence moves toward the Carolinas, according to the New York Times.
“I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” Trump said Tuesday as he went on to tout the administration’s efforts in Texas during Hurricane Harvey and Florida during Hurricane Irma. “Texas, we have been given A-pluses for. Florida, we’ve been given A-pluses for.
“I think in a certain way the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. It’s harder to understand. It was a very hard thing to do because of the fact they had no electric. Before the storms hit, it was dead, as you probably know. We got a lot … of thanks for the job in Puerto Rico,” Trump continued in a video posted by the Times.
A Puerto Rican government-commissioned study done by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University released in August stated that 2,975 people died from Hurricane Maria, USA Today reported.
That made it the deadliest U.S. hurricane in more than 100 years, only topped by the 6,000 dead in and around Galveston, Texas, in 1900. The Puerto Rican government had initially reported that only 64 died in the hurricane.
The study went on to say that the government’s emergency plan was not designed for hurricanes greater than a Category 1, but Maria slammed into the island as a Category 4 with winds topping out at 154 miles per hour, USA Today noted.
Trump claim brought a strong rebuke from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a frequent critic of the president.
“In a humanitarian crisis, you should not be grading yourself,” Cruz told CNN Tuesday. “You should not be just having a parade of self-accolades. You should never be content with everything we did. I’m not content with everything I did, I should have done more.
“… But the president continues to refuse to acknowledge his responsibility, and the problem is that if he didn’t acknowledge it in Puerto Rico, God bless the people of South Carolina and the people of North Carolina,” Cruz continued.
Trump wasted no time punching back at Cruz in a Twitter post Wednesday morning.
We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 12, 2018
Others, though, criticized Trump’s Maria boasting as well.
“Anyone who flies in to Puerto Rico may notice the amount of blue tarps as they are landing, and that is only a small representation of the rest of the municipalities,” Amarilis González, a former English teacher who founded Toldos Pa’ Mi Gente, or Tarps for My People, a group that collected house coverings, told the New York Times. “If that is a ‘success,’ I do not understand the concept.”
New York Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said that her relatives just recently had electricity restored on the island, the BBC News wrote.
“Some of my [Puerto Rico] family just got power a few weeks ago,” she said. “People are developing respiratory issues partly due to airborne fungal spores from lack of proper cleanup. The admin’s response to Puerto Rico has been a disaster.”
Others went to Twitter.
Nearly 3,000 people died.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 11, 2018
That is not a “success.” That is a tragedy and a disgrace. https://t.co/sqoFhZlVb3
FEMA even accepted some of its failings in a July report, admitting it underused warehouses, had few qualified staff to attend to the hurricane, brought the wrong type of satellite phones to the island to properly communicate, and did not have truck drivers to deliver aid from the port, the New York Times reported.