Donald Trump plunged into fresh controversy as he said Puerto Rico’s devastation by Hurricane Maria had “thrown our budget a little of whack”, and claimed officials should be “proud” that so few people had died, unlike in catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina.
As Mr Trump arrived in the American territory almost two weeks after the hurricane — on a visit intended to show empathy with millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down — he marveled that the death toll had only reached 16. Hours later, and after Mr Trump had returned to Washington, the death toll was revised upward to 34 casualties on the island.
Only a tiny percentage of the 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico have electricity. Around half of residents do not have access to fresh drinking water, and only a third can make use of their mobile phones.
Introducing White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who was accompanying him on the trip, Mr Trump said: “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we have spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine.”
He also said the island should be “very proud” only 16 people had lost their lives, compared to the “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” who were killed by Hurricane Katrina that struck Louisiana in 2005.
“We’ve saved a lot of lives. Every death is a horror. If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who died, and you look here at a storm that was totally overpowering, and you look at your death count – 16 certified – then you can be very proud.”
He added: “You can be very proud of how your people and our people worked together.” Puerto Rico is a US territory.
Ahead of his visit, Mr Trump had been criticised by many for what was perceived as the slow federal response to the disaster, especially when compared to how the government helped Florida and Texas after they were respectively struck by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.