SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — President Donald Trump arrived in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
Accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, the president met with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has openly criticized the president’s response since the storm wreaked havoc on the U.S. territory late last month. Attending a briefing on storm recovery efforts shortly after landing at Luis Muñiz Air National Guard Base in San Juan, the president caused a stir among the media after joking that Peurto Rico had cost the United States a lot of money in it’s clean up.
“Now, I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little bit out of whack,” the president said at the hangar briefing. “Because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine, we’ve saved a lot of lives.”
After pointing out that things could have been much worse for the island territory, the president again raised eyebrows when he said just 16 people died in Puerto Rico because of Maria compared to “a real catastrophe like Katrina” in 2005. “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud.”
Despite the rough start, President Trump and Mayor Cruz appeared to put their differences aside as they discussed how they can best help the suffering people of Puerto Rico. In an effort to diffuse the tensions between himself and the mayor prior to his arrival, the president praised Cruz’s efforts in aiding the people of her city.
“Well, I think she’s come back a long way,” Trump said as he departed the White House prior to catching his flight. “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that. And in Texas and in Florida, we get an A+. And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation.”
“It’s all about saving lives, it’s not about politics,” said Cruz to Trump as they shook hands during the briefing.
After being briefed by the mayor and the governor, Trump walked through a neighborhood in Guaynabo that had been devastated by the storm. Accompanied by Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, Trump greeted locals, shook their hands with residents and took photos with them outside their homes.
Addressing the press after the president’s visit, Cruz said she felt the biggest impact from the trip came after Trump toured the region himself.
“I truly believe that they finally saw the connection, or the disconnect, between what they were hearing on the one hand and the reality of what is happening on the ground,” she said.
According to Puerto Rico officials, only 47 percent of the island’s residents have access to potable water and 95 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power. Reliable communication with the rest of the world is still also lacking, say recovery workers.
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, the president heaped praise on Puerto Rican leaders during his visit, saying officials had done a great job in such a difficult situation. While speaking to a family in one flooded neighborhood, Trump said, “Your governor and your mayor have done, really, a fantastic job.”
Seeming particularly impressed with Rosselló, Trump said, “This governor did not play politics. He didn’t play it all. He was saying it like it was. And he was giving us the highest grades.”