Trump laments cost of Puerto Rico non-catastrophe

Published: 04 October 2017

Don’t worry, everything’s OK in Puerto Rico

Death toll rises as President praises government response

Don’t worry, everything’s OK in Puerto Rico
Image 2017 © EPA/Thais Llorca / POOL via AAP

US President Donald Trump thinks Hurricane Maria wasn’t a real catastrophe – except for on the federal budget.

Visiting Puerto Rico for the first time since Hurricane Maria's devastation, Trump expressed his satisfaction with the federal response, despite criticism the government was slow to address the crisis by organisations like Oxfam and the mayor of San Juan.

Trump, who has grappled with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the past six weeks, said at a briefing on Tuesday the disasters were straining the US budget.

"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," he said.

"And that's fine. We've saved a lot of lives."

Two weeks after it was hit by the worst hurricane in 90 years, many of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents are still struggling without basic necessities.

But Trump said that with just 16 confirmed deaths at the time of his press conference, what Puerto Ricans were going through didn’t compare with the devastation caused by Hurricane Katina.

Shortly after Trump left Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Rosello said the death toll had risen from 16 to 34.

Trump said the federal response to Maria compared favourably with a "real catastrophe like Katrina", the 2005 storm that swamped Louisiana and Mississippi and killed more than 1800.

"What's happened in terms of recovery, in terms of saving lives - 16 lives that's a lot - but if you compare that to the thousands of people who died in other hurricanes that frankly were not nearly as severe," he said.

And when it comes to the death toll metric, have no doubts that if he wanted to, Hurricane Donald could be the greatest of all time.

On Air Force One on his return flight to Washington, Trump said it had been a "great day" and he had heard no criticism during his day in Puerto Rico.

"We've only heard 'thank yous' from the people of Puerto Rico," he said.

He said truck drivers were still needed to help distribute supplies.

In Washington, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Republican President Trump should "stop blaming Puerto Rico for the storm that devastated their shores" and start trying to make the situation better.

The White House is preparing to ask Congress for a $US29 billion aid package for Puerto Rico and other areas hit by natural disasters.

Additional requests are expected for longer-term assistance to Puerto Rico, as well as Texas and Florida, which also were hit by powerful storms in recent weeks.

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