Days before Hurricane Maria made landfall last year, the White House learned that a Category 4 storm was likely to hit Puerto Rico — and that the territory’s electrical grid was unlikely to survive such an onslaught.
The federal government had time to deploy satellite phones to the island, so as to ensure that the territory’s government wouldn’t lose contact with constituents in remote areas. It had time to deliver reserves of food, fuel, and water in advance of the storm, so as to allow local officials to spread those vital resources throughout the island before Maria lay waste to much of its trucking infrastructure.
Instead, the president did almost nothing in the lead-up to the storm — and went on a four-day golf vacation in its immediate aftermath.
Weeks later — after his administration’s inaction contributed to a humanitarian crisis that condemned millions of U.S. citizens to a preindustrial existence, and cost thousands of them their lives — Trump paid Puerto Rico a visit. And in between feuding with the island’s elected leadership, Trump told Puerto Ricans that they should be very proud of the government’s response — because it had spared them from suffering a “real catastrophe like Katrina.”
Trump’s remarks were premised on the notion that only 16 people had died as a result of the hurricane. The Puerto Rican government now puts the death toll closer to 3,000. The president never apologized for his comments, or expressed anguish at the revelation that Puerto Rico had suffered a tragedy far greater than he had realized.
The president proceeded to deny the catastrophically indebted island any significant relief funds (even while pushing through a $1.5 trillion tax-cut package, which included provisions that directly undermine Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector), warned the island that FEMA could not keep relief workers “in P.R. forever!” less than a month after the storm had landed, and privileged Texas over Puerto Rico in the distribution of emergency resources, despite the island’s far graver conditions.
On Tuesday, the president spoke with reporters about the White House’s preparations for Hurricane Florence. During that conversation, Trump said that his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was “the best job we did,” and that the federal government’s relief effort was an “incredible, unsung success.”