Trump: Puerto Rico put bud­get ‘out of whack’ but lives saved

South Florida Times - - NATION - By JILL COLVIN

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump high­lighted Puerto Rico’s rel­a­tively low death toll com­pared with “a real catas­tro­phe like Katr ina” as he opened a tour of the is­land’s dev­as­ta­tion Tues­day, fo­cus­ing on the best of the re­views he and his ad­min­is­tra­tion are get­ting rather than crit­i­cism of the f ed­eral re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Maria.

Trump pledged an all-out ef­fort to help the is­land but added: “Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our bud­get a lit­tle out of whack be­cause we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

He said his visit was “not about me” but then praised lo­cal of­fi­cials for off er­ing kind words about the re­cov­ery ef­fort and in­vited one to re­peat the “nice things” she’d said ear­lier. Trump also sin­gled out Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello f or “giv­ing us the high­est praise.”

“Ev­ery death is a hor­ror,” he said, “but if you look at a real catas­tro­phe like Katr ina and you look at the tremen­dous, hun­dreds and hun­dreds and hun­dreds of peo­ple that died, and you look at what hap­pened here ... no­body’s ever seen any­thing like this.”

In Wash­ing­ton, Rep. Luis Gu­tier­rez, DIll., noted that many peo­ple in more re­mote ar­eas are still in dire straits and in need of food and wa­ter. He told CNN, “Let’s stop talk­ing about the death count un­til this is over.” It stands at 16 now, and 95 per­cent of electr ic­ity cus­tomers re­main with­out power, in­clud­ing some hos­pi­tals.

The most prom­i­nent cr itic in Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Car­men Yulin Cruz, at­tended Trump’s first event, in an air­port hangar, shak­ing Trump’s hand as he went around a table greet­ing of­fi­cials be­fore sit­ting in in the shadow of a hulk­ing, gray mil­i­tary plane.

“How are you?” he asked. Her re­sponse could not be heard. He thanked her. Days ear­lier, Cruz said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was “killing us with the in­ef­fi­ciency,” plead­ing f or more eff ec­tive f ed­eral lead­er­ship in the cri­sis.

Air Force One brought the pres­i­dent, first lady Me­la­nia Trump and aides to Puerto Rico in late morn­ing. They were ex­pected to spend more than five hours on the ground, meet­ing first re­spon­ders, lo­cal of­fi­cials and some of the 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple whose lives have been up­ended by a hur­ri­cane that, in the pres­i­dent’s words, left the is­land U.S. ter­ri­tory “flat­tened.”

At least parts of the itin­er­ary were drawn to en­sure a friendly re­cep­tion: Trump was vis­it­ing the houses of pre-se­lected f am­i­lies wait­ing on their lawns.

The pres­i­dent also handed out flash­lights at a church, where 200 peo­ple cheered his ar­rival and crowded around him get­ting pic­tures on their cell­phones.

“There’s a lot of love in this room, a lot of love,” Trump said. “Great peo­ple.”

Asked by AP what he has to say to peo­ple still with­out power, f ood and wa­ter, he spoke of the gen­er­a­tors brought to the is­land and said the elec­tri­cal grid is be­ing fixed.

“Again the job that’s been done here is re­ally noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle,” he said.

In the Playita neigh­bor­hood in the heart of San Juan, a f ew miles from the air base where Trump gave his up­beat report on progress, peo­ple cleaned sewer wa­ter from their homes and busi­nesses, stacked fouled clothes in shop­ping carts and piled them on street cor ners along­side wet mat­tresses and pieces of bro­ken metal roofs.

They still lack power, got wa­ter back Sun­day and said they have seen no fed­eral of­fi­cials since Maria struck.

“What more do they want us to do?” asked Ray Ne­gron, 38, rest­ing in the shade of a church after a mor ning col­lect­ing de­bris. “No­body’s come.”

On ap­proach to the air­port, Air Force One de­scended over a land­scape marked by man­gled palm trees, metal de­bris strewn near homes and patches of stripped trees, yet with less dev­as­ta­tion ev­i­dent than f arther from San Juan. At least in his first mo­ments on the is­land, Trump re­mained fo­cused pri­mar ily on draw­ing praise. “He didn’t play politics at all,” he said of the gover nor, mak­ing clear that he con­sid­ers those who have crit­i­cized him to be po­lit­i­cally driven. Trump mis­stated Maria as a Cat­e­gory 5 hurr icane; it was Cat­e­gory 4 when it hit Puerto Rico.


A man rides his bi­cy­cle through a dam­aged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan.

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