SAN JUAN — President Donald Trump told Puerto Rican officials Tuesday they should be “very proud” that hundreds of people haven’t died after Hurricane Maria as they did in “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”
“Every death is a horror,” Trump said, “but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds of people that died — and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering … no one has ever seen anything like this.”
“What is your death count?” he asked as he turned to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. “17?”
“16,” Rosselló answered.
“16 people certified,” Trump said. “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. Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”
Trump also said the island’s relief efforts have “thrown our budget a little out of whack.”
According to FEMA, 1,833 people died in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Before Trump arrived Tuesday, Rosselló said he expected the death count to rise.
“I’ve established from the get-go that due to the magnitude of this event it is likely that that number is going to go up,” Rosselló told CNN’s Sara Murray.
The White House has pushed back on the notion that Maria is this administration’s version of Katrina, and the President praised relief efforts in Puerto Rico as he departed Washington Tuesday.
“I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico and it’s actually a much tougher situation,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “But now the roads are clear, communications starting to come back.”
On the ground in Puerto Rico, Trump also appeared to blame the island and its 3.5 million residents for throwing the federal budget “a little out of whack.”
“I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” Trump said with a grin. “Because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico and that’s fine, we’ve saved a lot of lives.”
But the bulk of Trump’s remarks on Tuesday focused on praising his administration’s response to the destructive hurricane, even as more than half of the island’s roughly 3.5 million residents still lack access to potable water and as nearly all of the island remains without power.
While surveying the damage in Puerto Rico, President Trump visited with survivors and helped distribute supplies — at one point throwing paper towels into the crowd.
Upon entering a multipurpose room at the Calvary Chapel in the Guaynabo neighborhood of the island, Trump was met with cheers and supportive signs welcoming his presence.
The President began to pick up cans of chicken to show to the crowd and then handed one man a pack of batteries. Next, he held up a flashlight and showed it off while shaking hands with the Puerto Rico residents there to obtain provisions.
“There’s a lot of love in this room,” Trump said while giving out the supplies. “Great people.”
Trump continued to raise different items up in the air for the patrons to see while shaking hands and passing out objects, before grabbing rolls of paper towels. Then Trump began to toss rolls of paper towels into the crowd. Several of the rolls were caught by Puerto Rico residents in the room, but a few fell onto the carpeted floor.