- President Donald Trump has reportedly been fixated on unflattering news reports about his response to Hurricane Maria, which slammed Puerto Rico in September 2017.
- Trump has particularly been irritated by video footage of him throwing rolls of paper towels to a crowd of relief workers on the island, according to The Washington Post. The footage prompted accusations that Trump lacks empathy.
- “I’m not to blame for this,” Trump said about Maria at one point, according to one of his advisers.
- Trump continued to cast doubt on the final death toll from Hurricane Maria on Friday, and mischaracterized an academic study that estimated 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico in the months after the storm.
As Hurricane Florence continued its destructive path in North and South Carolina on Friday, President Donald Trump has reportedly been fixated on unflattering news reports about his response to Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017.
Trump has particularly been irritated by video footage of him throwing rolls of paper towels to a crowd of relief workers on the island, according to a Washington Post report published Thursday. Trump had characterized his gestures as good-natured, but the footage prompted accusations that Trump lacks empathy.
“They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels,” Trump said during an interview with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in October. “And I came in and there was a crowd of a lot of people. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having fun, they were having fun. They said, ‘Throw ’em to me! Throw ’em to me Mr. President!'”
“The next day they said, ‘Oh, it was so disrespectful to the people,'” he added. “It was just a made-up thing.”
The death toll in Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Maria grew from six to 13 by the time Trump arrived on the island. But later that day, the number grew to 34, according to The Post. Millions of homes and businesses lost power after hurricane made landfall, making it the largest blackout in US history and the second-largest in the world.
“I’m not to blame for this,” Trump said about Maria at one point, according to one of his advisers cited by The Post.
Trump resurfaced the debate this week when he boasted about his administration’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” Trump said on Tuesday, adding that the island was fraught with issues prior to the hurricane. “It was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”
Trump’s remarks did not go unnoticed.
Carmen Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, admitted there were some bureaucratic problems on the island, but she slammed Trump’s comments and described them as “despicable” and “adding insult to injury.”
“Everything is about him and political posturing,” Cruz said. “The man has no idea, he has no solidarity, no sympathy, and no empathy for anything that does not make him look good.”
Trump continued to enrage his critics in a series of tweets on Friday night, casting doubt on an academic study that calculated nearly 3,000 deaths in the months following Maria.
“‘When Trump visited the island territory last October, OFFICIALS told him in a briefing 16 PEOPLE had died from Maria,'” Trump quoted The Post’s story in a tweet. “This was long AFTER the hurricane took place. Over many months it went to 64 PEOPLE. Then, like magic, ‘3000 PEOPLE KILLED.'”
On Thursday, Trump also tweeted: “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
The George Washington University study analyzed the total number of deaths during a six-month period and compared them to historical patterns – without classifying all deaths on the island as a result of Maria.
“They hired…….GWU Research to tell them how many people had died in Puerto Rico (how would they not know this?),” Trump added. “This method was never done with previous hurricanes because other jurisdictions know how many people were killed. FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER – NO WAY!”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló appeared to be aware of the critical distinction between Trump’s tweet and the study.
“Mr. President- I’d very much be willing to walk you through the scientific process of the study and how [George Washington University] arrived at the excess mortality number estimate,” Rosselló replied to Trump’s tweet. “There is no reason to underscore the tragedy we have suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.”
Rosselló added: “In the meantime, I hope you consider sending a message of support to show you stand with all of the US Citizens in Puerto Rico that lost loved ones. It would certainly be an act of respect and empathy.”