Trump claims his Hurricane Maria response was an 'incredible unsung success'

Trump claims his Hurricane Maria response was an 'incredible unsung success'

September 11, 2018 0 By admin

Donald Trump in the Oval Office

President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the Oval Office on Tuesday. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

The president has long complained that he hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves for the storm that killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico.

By MATTHEW CHOI

Updated

2018-09-11T05:56-0400

President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed that his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, last year’s devastating storm that killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, was an “incredible unsung success.”

Speaking to reporters as he received a briefing on Hurricane Florence, which is threatening to wreak havoc on the East Coast, Trump again lamented that his government has been unfairly criticized for its sluggish response to Maria.

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“I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” Trump said, adding that the island territory posed considerable challenges for relief efforts. “It was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

The Trump administration’s relief efforts were visibly slower in Puerto Rico compared with those in Texas after Hurricane Harvey that season, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency taking twice as much time to deliver some supplies to the territory. Trump himself created several controversial moments, such as hurling paper towels at storm survivors in Puerto Rico and saying the island didn’t endure a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina. The official death toll from that storm hit nearly 3,000 last month — a dramatic increase from the earlier official count of 64.

Though Trump claimed Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló would laud the president’s response to the storm, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz called the federal government’s response a “stain for FEMA and Trump’s reputation” in an interview with Newsweek published Tuesday.

Following Maria, Cruz was one of Trump’s most vocal critics, and her ire has not tempered as Florence approaches the East Coast. She said on Twitter on Tuesday that Trump‘s calling his response a success “adds insult [to] injury.”

“Success? Federal response according to Trump in Puerto Rico a success? If he thinks the death of 3,000 people [is] a success God help us all,” Cruz tweeted.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced last week that the state would help more than 11,000 displaced Puerto Ricans sue Trump and the federal government over the response to Maria, also decried the president’s comments as insulting to the thousands who died in the storm.

“Let me be clear: these are Americans, Mr. President, who you let down, tossed a few rolls of paper towels to, and then abandoned in a way you never would have done in Florida and Texas,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Trump blamed the territory’s infrastructure for much of the power failures in Puerto Rico following Maria, saying the island was bankrupt and had lost power before the storm made landfall. In contrast, states like Virginia and the Carolinas “are doing a very good job” and “have very strong power companies,” he said.

The president on Tuesday emphasized that his administration was “absolutely totally prepared” to respond to Florence, which has become a Category 4 storm packing 140 mile-per-hour winds.

Trump also told reporters that Florence would be “tremendously big and tremendously wet — tremendous amount of water,” and that his officials were “sparing no expense” preparing for the biggest hurricane “in decades.”

Trump’s campaign has also been aware of the optics risk around the storm, and on Tuesday canceled a second rally that had been scheduled for later in the week, citing safety concerns. Trump had planned to hold events in Missouri and Mississippi, as he ratchets up his travel ahead of the midterms.

“With Hurricane Florence on its way, we determined that this is the safest decision,” said Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., in announcing the cancellation of the Missouri trip.

Trump has also been active on Twitter, warning Americans to take proper precautions and to show that he’s keeping on top of the storm’s movement.

Trump tweeted on Monday that he had been in contact with the governors of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Defense Secretary James Mattis also said he was getting daily briefings on the status of four storms affecting U.S. states and territories.

Trump on Tuesday granted a state of emergency in Virginia, ordering federal assistance to the state government to respond to the storm. The president had also granted federal emergency assistance to North Carolina, South Carolina and the Northern Mariana Islands, which experienced a Pacific typhoon, earlier this week.

The president also tweeted on Monday: “My people just informed me that this is one of the worst storms to hit the East Coast in many years. Also, looking like a direct hit on North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!”

The storm is likely to dominate the news this week and require a massive response from the federal government.

Florence is expected to approach the North Carolina coast late Thursday or early Friday — with damaging winds and devastating storm surge — before slowing down and dumping huge amounts of rain on parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic that could result in life-threatening floods.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said the coordination and preparation ahead of the storm were “exemplary” and better than he’d seen in his 25 years in Congress.

“Far better than others, because Brock Long has thought disaster through,” Burr told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

A disaster similar to what happened in Puerto Rico, Burr added, “would be a failure of North Carolina to successfully evacuate people, which is North Carolina’s responsibility. It’s not the federal government’s responsibility.”

Asked whether Trump’s praise of the administration’s handling of Puerto Rico troubled him ahead of the storm, Burr replied: “You’ve got to ask him about his comments.“

Steven Shepard and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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