President Donald Trump’s administration killed Puerto Ricans through “neglect,” the mayor of the island’s capital said Wednesday, a day after the official death toll for Hurricane Maria was raised to nearly 3,000.
Trump defended his handling of the crisis, claiming that his administration did a “fantastic job” and that Puerto Ricans are still being helped, but Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, had a different view.
“The administration killed the Puerto Ricans with neglect. The Trump administration led us to believe they were helping when they weren’t up to par, and they didn’t allow other countries to help us,” Cruz told CNN.
“Shame on President Trump. Shame on President Trump for not even once, not even yesterday, just saying, ‘Look, I grieve with the people of Puerto Rico.’”
After nearly a year of controversy over the death toll from the September 2017 storm, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said Tuesday that the new estimate of 2,975 dead would be considered the official figure.
The Puerto Rican government’s longstanding official death toll from Maria had been 64.
Hurricane Maria wreaked widespread devastation and caused $90 billion in damage when it tore across Puerto Rico, and is ranked as the third-costliest storm in the United States since 1900.
Households on the island went for an average of 84 days without electricity, 64 days without water and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage after the storm.
In comparison, the death toll from 2005's Hurricane Katrina — the costliest hurricane in U.S. history — was significantly lower, estimated at 1,833.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that his administration is doing a “fantastic job in Puerto Rico,” and that governor Rosello has done an “excellent job.”
Assistance to Puerto Rico was more difficult because — unlike Texas and Florida, also struck by hurricanes last year — “it’s much harder to get things onto the island,” Trump said.
The island was also deeply in debt, and its power grid was crippled by neglect even before the hurricane, he said.
“I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we have done,” said Trump.
‘Stain’ on Trump presidency
One month after Maria, when the official number of people killed stood at 16, Trump said that the disaster was nothing compared to Hurricane Katrina’s death toll.
“That shaped and hampered the type of response that we got, federal assistance, federal deployment and assets, to Puerto Rico,” said New York lawmaker Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat of Puerto Rican descent.
“It is indisputable that thousands of people died because of the disastrously inadequate response,” Velazquez told CNN.
The president’s comments, plus images of Trump throwing paper towels at hurricane survivors, outraged Puerto Ricans.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that the president is “proud of all of the work the federal family undertook to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.”
Cruz was having none of it: “What is there to be proud of?” she asked CNN, mentioning the death toll. “Is that what he’s proud of?”
Puerto Ricans are “going to remember this forever.”