Facing mounting criticism of his administration’s response to the disaster in Puerto Rico, President Trump on Friday praised the US response to a hurricane he described as perhaps the worst in history.
“People have never seen anything like this,” the president said, addressing a group of manufacturers in Washington.
“We’ve undertaken a massive federal mobilization to assist Puerto Rico, including the presence of over 10,000 federal personnel, including 5,000 US military and National Guard personnel, led by a very, very strong and talented three-star general,” the president said, referring to Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan.
“All appropriate departments of our government from Homeland Security to Defense are engaged fully in the disaster and the response and recovery effort, probably has never been seen for something like this.”
The president repeated his contention that because the US territory is an island, mobilization has been a challenge.
“This is an island surrounded by water. Big water, Ocean water,” he explained. “We’ve never seen a situation like this.”
Puerto Rico’s local and territorial governments, he added, were “totally and unfortunately unable to handle this catastrophic crisis on their own – just totally unable to.“
He also again criticized the island’s power grid as antiquated, brought up the territory’s massive debt and questioned who would pay for the reconstruction.
“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort [which] will end up being one of the biggest ever, will be funded and organized and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” Trump said.
And he repeatedly emphasized the size of Hurricane Maria and what he called the massive US efforts to help.
“Never been anything like this. So, there remains a lot of work to do and we will work with the folks that we’re working with right now. They’re trying very, very hard, I will tell you that. But nobody has ever seen anything like it,” the president said.
After devoting scant attention to the Sept. 20 storm for days as he picked a fight with the NFL over national anthem, Trump has been vigorously defending the US effort and patting himself on the back for the response.
He’s blamed the criticism on an unfair press, even as many Puerto Rican officials have pleaded for a quicker response, as most of the island remains without power amid shortages of food, water and medicine nine days after the storm.