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Donald Trump Compares Puerto Rico Death Toll With Katrina’s ‘Real Catastrophe’ During Extraordinary Visit

Bemoans cost of recovery. Throws paper towels.

03/10/2017 20:59 BST

Donald Trump has visited Puerto Rico and appears to have said little to help ease the concerns of devastated Americans, suggesting the hurricane-battered US territory had not faced a “real catastrophe” and joking about the cost of the recovery effort.

The US President landed on the island on Tuesday, almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria pummelled the country.

Despite recovery efforts, Puerto Rico and its 3.4 million residents are still without electricity and about half the population lacks drinking water. Some 16 people have been reported dead so far.

Ahead of his visit, Trump had hit out at people on the island who “want everything done for them”, and doubled down a day later by damning “politically motivated ingrates” who had criticised the slow recovery efforts.

The US President brought the same spirit of unity to the island. 

At his first stop, Trump praised federal and local officials. But he also: 

1. Complained about the cost of the recovery effort.

While Trump thought Puerto Rico could be “very proud” just 16 people had died, he appeared to joke about the cost of the storm damage. 

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” he said. 

MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images
Donald Trump and Melania Trump attend a meeting with Puerto Rico officials.

It’s a recurring theme: since soon after the hurricane hit, Trump has criticised the lack of maintenance of the island’s infrastructure. 

He returned to the subject on Thursday. “It’s being fixed,” he told reporters,  adding that the power grid was “devastated before the hurricanes even hit”.

He said lots of generators have been brought to the island and most hospitals are at least partially open.

Trump said: “The job that’s been done here is really nothing short of a miracle.”

2. Said Hurricane Katrina was a “real catastrophe”.

Trump pointed to Puerto Rico’s relatively low death toll caused by Hurricane Maria, and compared it to “a real catastrophe like Katrina”, which killed more than a thousand people in 2005.

The President said that while “every death is a horror”, he drew a distinction between “a real catastrophe like Katrina” and “what happened here”.

He said: “Sixteen versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands. You can be very proud.”

3. Threw paper towels at a crowd. 

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

About 200 local residents cheered Trump as he walked in to the Calvary Chapel, where tables nearby were lined with supplies that included paper towels, bags of rice, confectionary and water bottles.

According to reports, the President shook hands and handed people flashlights. A few times, he tossed paper towel rolls into the crowd.

“There’s a lot of love in this room,” Trump said, surrounded by a sea of cellphone cameras. “Great people,” he added of those in attendance.

4. Told one victim to have “a good time”. 

When visiting storm victims, local people showed him the storm’s damage to their homes, and pointed out broken windows and power outages.

“We’re going to help you out,” the President told them. “Have a good time.”

5. Appears not to have buried the hatchet with Puerto Rico politician.

Trump’s Twitter invective this weekend was directed at the mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest city San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who warned the country was facing “something close to a genocide” if the relief efforts were not improved.

But Trump claimed they had thrashed out their differences. “I think she’s come back a long way,” the President said. “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done.”

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Maybe, but Yulín Cruz was reportedly at the event where Trump praised officials. While others around the table applauded several times, the San Juan Mayor did not applaud, “keeping her hands clasped in front of her”.