President Donald Trump’s press conference to update on U.S. plans to prepare for what could be a category 5 Hurricane Florence has created its own weather pattern after he referenced the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year as “incredibly successful.”
His comments come as Florence gains speed in the Atlantic Ocean and is expected to make landfall on the eastern seaboard early Friday morning. More than 1 million people in the coastal cities of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under mandatory evacuation orders owing to the expected storm surge and winds, with 20-30 inches of rain expected. Flooding danger is expected into next week from Pennsylvania to Georgia.
But most of the takeaway from the preparedness presser at the Oval Office with Trump and FEMA Administrator Brock Long was via Trump’s response to questions about Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, where an estimated 2,975 died after the storm hit last September (the original death toll was reported to be 64.)
Asked by a pool reporter what lesson was there to be taken from what happened there, Trump jumped in.
“Well, I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” he said. “Puerto Rico was, actually, our toughest one of all because it’s an island, so you just — you can’t truck things onto it. Everything is by boat. We moved a hospital into Puerto Rico — a tremendous military hospital in the form of a ship. You know that.”
Later, he said the response to Puerto Rico “was an incredible, unsung success.”
“Texas, we had been given A-plusses for. Florida, we’ve been given A-plusses for. I think, in a certain way, the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean, it’s harder to understand. It was very hard — a very hard thing to do because of the fact they had no electric. Before the storms hit, it was dead, as you probably know. So we’ve gotten a lot of receptivity, a lot of thanks for the job we’ve done in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was very important.”
The remarks pricked up the ears of media and media watchers.
The U.S. government was criticized last year for its response in Puerto Rico to Maria compared with the response in the U.S. to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, with the image of Trump famously tossing rolls of paper towels to a crowd in a shelter in San Juan. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal critic, reacted swiftly to Trump’s comments today.
Currently Florence is a category 4 hurricane with winds in excess of 140 mph extending 60 miles from the storm’s eye.
Trump said he has been talking with state governors and that the U.S. was prepared for its landfall. “They haven’t seen anything like what’s coming at us in 25, 30 years — maybe ever,” Trump said. “It’s tremendously big and tremendously wet.”