WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump lauded the U.S. response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year just a day after the commonwealth said almost 3,000 people died from the storm.
“I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico,” Trump told reporters Wednesday at the White House in response to a question about the new death tally. “Puerto Rico had a lot of difficulties before it got hit, and we’re straightening out those difficulties even now.”
Trump’s upbeat assessment of the disaster appears to have changed little from October 2017, when the official death toll was just 16 people. At that time, Trump compared the storm’s damage to the 1,833 people who were killed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina became a millstone for then-President George W. Bush, who had praised his administration’s response before the true toll was known.
Puerto Rico’s revised death toll from Hurricane Maria — 2,975 people — was released Tuesday in a study that the commonwealth had commissioned from researchers at George Washington University. The study is based on researchers’ analysis of excess deaths that took place in Puerto Rico between September 2017 and February 2018. Another report to Congress earlier this month found there were 1,427 more deaths in the four months after Maria than was typical over the comparable four months in the previous four years.
“This is unprecedented devastation,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Tuesday. Trump praised Rossello on Wednesday for his cooperation with Washington, calling him “an excellent guy” who is “very happy with the job we’ve done.”
Responding to Trump’s assessment of his administration’s handling of storm damage, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been consistently critical of Trump’s response, said on MSNBC that the 2,975 deaths “will follow him wherever he goes for the rest of his life.”