Trump: Storm response in Puerto Rico 'incredibly successful'

WASHINGTON (AP) — With a powerful hurricane bearing down on the southeast coast, President Donald Trump on Tuesday turned attention back to the federal government's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago, deeming it "incredibly successful" even though a recent federal report found that nearly 3,000 people died.

The administration's efforts in Puerto Rico received widespread criticism. But after visiting the island last September, Trump said that Puerto Ricans were fortunate that the storm did not yield a catastrophe akin to the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast.

All told, about 1,800 people died in that 2005 storm. Puerto Rico's governor last month raised the U.S. territory's official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975. The storm is also estimated to have caused $100 billion in damage.

"I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about," Trump said Tuesday of the response in Puerto Rico, suggesting that it was made more difficult by the "island nature" of the storm site.

The president praised the response to the series of storms that battered the United States last year, saying "I think Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success. Texas we've been given A-pluses for. Florida we've been given A-pluses for."

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Puerto Rico housing crisis
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Puerto Rico housing crisis
Chickens stand at the entrance to a house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
People gather to chat outside a mini-market that uses electricity from a generator, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 12, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A house partially destroyed by hurricane Maria and illuminated with electricity from a generator stands in the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 13, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
David Lopez walks out of his house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Karla Gerrido works on her computer in front of a fan that works with electricity from a generator, at her house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Miguel Rosario Lopez watches a television that works using electricity from a generator, while his wife Milagros Jimenez walks through their house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Chickens walk through a house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Wanda Ramos looks out from the house of her husband's family where she is living after her house was totally destroyed by hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 12, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Itzaida Planas walks to the house of a neighbour, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A car drives down a street during the night at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 13, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Franco Deaza (L) carries a water container into his family's house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Samuel Vasquez rebuilds his house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, while his wife Ysamar Figueroa looks on, whilst carrying their son Saniel, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Houses damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Maria stand at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Carlos Ventura carries a corrugated metal sheet to be used for a ceiling, while he helps a neighbour to rebuild her house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Milagros Jimenez helps her husband to rebuild their house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Joe Quirindongo tries to repair a makeshift tent where he keeps some belongings at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Yeriel Cruz, 4, looks out of the window of his family house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Milagros Jimenez poses for a picture at her house, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Hector Martinez gives cookies to his dog at the house of his girlfriend Maria Vega Lastra, which was partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 11, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Houses partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria are seen at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
Jorge Salgado poses for a picture next to a house he built with parts of his house, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 12, 2017. Salgado said: "I lost everything, but we have to keep living". Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A woman washes her car in front of houses which were partially destroyed by Hurricane Maria, at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
A handwritten address sign is attached to a post on a street at the squatter community of Villa Hugo in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, December 9, 2017. Villa Hugo is a settlement initially formed by people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 
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Having long struggled to express empathy at times of national crises, Trump sparked outrage when during his visit to the island he feuded with the mayor of San Juan and passed out paper towels to victims like he was shooting baskets.

While defending the handling of the previous storm, he urged caution in regards to the new one bearing down on North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

"The safety of American people is my absolute highest priority," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared. We are ready. We are ready as anybody has ever been."

The president, flanked by maps of the storm and the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Florence was unlikely to change course before it is expected to make landfall with 130 mph winds and potentially ruinous rains in the coming days.

"They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever," Trump said of the states in the storm's path. "It's tremendously big and tremendously wet. Tremendous amount of water."

Florence was expected to blow ashore late Thursday or early Friday, then slow down and wring itself out for days, unloading 1 to 2½ feet of rain that could cause flooding well inland and wreak environmental havoc by washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms. North and South Carolina and Virginia ordered mass evacuations along the coast.

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Preparations made ahead of Florence
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Preparations made ahead of Florence
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 10: In this NOAA satellite handout image, shows Hurricane Florence (C) as it gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda moving west on September 10, 2018. Hurricane Isaac and Helene can be seen to the east of Florence. Weather predictions say the storm will likely hit the U.S. East Coast as early as Thursday, September 13 bringing massive winds and rain. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
The pumps at the Shell gas station on Western Boulevard featured 'out of gas' signs as people prepared to ride out Hurricane Florence on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
South Carolina National Guard soldiers transfer bulk diesel fuel into fuel tanker trucks for distribution in advance of Hurricane Florence, in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Hurricane Florence seen over the Atlantic Ocean, about 750 miles southeast of Bermuda in this handout photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on September 9, 2018. NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
Boarded up houses are seen ahead of Hurricane Florence� expected landfall, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver
A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver
A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
A county worker drives astride the levy along Lowery Street September 10, 2018 in Lumberton, North Carolina, ahead of Hurricane Florence. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
The water treatment facility sits along Lowery Street in Lumberton, North Carolina, September 10, 2018. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton as well as the water treatment plant, causing thousands without water. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Tarek Elshik, left, fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Tarek Elshik fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media following a briefing on Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office at the White House September 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by ZACH GIBSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles line up September 11, 2018 as they exit Surf City, North Carolina, following a mandatory evacuation order and curfew ahead of the arrival of Hurrican Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Signs warn customers that alcohol sales are suspended at an Exxon station in Harbinger, North Carolina on September 11, 2018. - From Charleston's colonial mansions with finely-crafted balustrades, to fragile Outer Banks beaches, to exalted centers of American history, the tourism-heavy US East Coast is facing a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed reporting.

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