President Donald Trump said Wednesday the government is ready for massive Hurricane Florence and insisted that his administration's response to the devastation in Puerto Rico previous year was an "underappreciated great job".
During a Hot Topics discussion of how Donald Trump handled the crisis in Puerto Rico after the president admitted that his administration's work in Puerto Rico was not appreciated, panelist and lawyer Sunny Hostin stated that the president and his government allowed people to die. "Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000", Trump wrote.
But just after he left Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello updated the death toll to 34, almost doubling it, saying 19 people died as a direct result of the storm and the others died as an indirect result. The government of Puerto Rico accepted these numbers, too, after many months in which the official death toll was listed at 64 people.
"I think Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success", the president said.
The revelation comes as President Trump doubled down on his administration's response to Hurricane Maria on Wednesday and lashed out at the mayor of San Juan, who has been a critic of the effort, as "incompetent".
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The president spoke before meeting with aides about preparations for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to hit the Carolinas and Virginia later this week. Puerto Rico's electrical grid, which Trump correctly says was already in bad shape before Maria landed, was knocked out by the storm.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, directly blamed Trump for the deaths in addition to lack of preparedness from the government on the federal and local level.
In a separate tweet, Trump warned that the storm was "looking even bigger than anticipated".
A USA government report published this month concluded that the federal response in Puerto Rico was hampered by a lack of trained staff as well as by major logistical challenges.
The official death count increased months after the storm because the government of Puerto Rico originally did not acknowledge counts from news outlets investigating the impact of the storm. Trump believed those recovery efforts were a success story he could use to turn the tide of negative press stories after a troubled August, said one official who was not authorized to speak publicly. FEMA proceeded award a $156 million contract to a company that promised to provide 30 million meals to Puerto Rico; only 50,000 were ever delivered.