Donald Trump says Puerto Rico is 'an island surrounded by big water'

The Trump administration is under fire for its response to Hurricane Maria

Emily Shugerman
New York
Friday 29 September 2017 22:10 BST
Trump claims Puerto Rico suffered because it was 'surrounded by big water'

Donald Trump has defended his administration's response to a recent hurricane in Puerto Rico by explaining that the island is “surrounded by water”.

“This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water,” he said at a tax reform speech in Washington.

He added that local governments had been “totally and unfortunately unable to handle this catastrophic crisis on their own – just totally unable to.”

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico last week, killing at least 16 people. The Category 4 storm knocked out 80 per cent of the island’s electricity. Almost all of the island's 3.4m residents remain without power today. Even hospitals are relying on generators to keep the lights on, and the fuel to power them is quickly running out.

Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has repeatedly begged for more federal assistance, calling the situation “a humanitarian crisis”. The mayor of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, recently joined the calls.

"I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying," Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said on Friday. "If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency."

Satellite images show Hurricane Maria's powerful 'pinhole' effect compared to Harvey and Irma

Mr Trump, meanwhile, has defended his administration's response, blaming the media for biassed coverage and repeatedly mentioning the territory's island location.

"This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean – and it's a big ocean, a really, really big ocean," Mr Trump told reporters earlier this week.

He later informed Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that Puerto Rico is "out in the ocean. You can't just drive your trucks there”.

"This is tough stuff,” he added.

Mr Trump also appeared to blame the residents of Puerto Rico for their dire straights, tweeting that the island is in “deep trouble” because it was “already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt”. It was the President’s first tweet about the issue, almost a week after the hurricane first hit.

The military has dispatched 4,500 troops and National Guard members to the island to help with reconstruction. FEMA has sent more than 800 people to distribute food and water and coordinate relief efforts.

Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert defended the administration’s response in a press conference on Thursday.

“I'm confident that we have enough resources marshalled and deployed forward to make those decisions under the right command and leadership structures," he said.

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