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President Donald Trump defended his administration’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria amid criticism that his public focus has been somewhere else.
Trump spent four straight days criticizing NFL players and teams on Twitter for kneeling during the national anthem before his news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Sept. 26, 2017.
When reporters asked Trump about his attention on the Puerto Rico emergency, he lamented the strength of the storm and praised the response to it by FEMA.
The accuracy of Trump’s commentary on the storm was mixed.
Maria did reach Category 5 status but made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane. Category 4 storms have sustained wind speeds between 130 and 156 miles per hour. Maria hit the upper limit.
Category 5 landfall wouldn’t have been unprecedented, though, as three such hurricanes have made landfall in the United States, the last one being Hurricane Andrew in Florida 25 years ago.
It was indeed the second hurricane to impact the island in the last few weeks; the core of Hurricane Irma passed north of Puerto Rico on Sept. 6, 2017, creating significant damage.
In a bipartisan meeting on tax reform earlier in the day, Trump said the storm had winds of over 200 miles an hour.
Hurricane Maria reached maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour in Puerto Rico according to Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. Gusts, which are occasional but not sustained winds, reached 195 miles per hour.
As a result of the hurricane, Puerto Rico faces serious food, water and power shortages. The death toll has reached 10 people so far; 80 percent of the transmission infrastructure was destroyed, and it could take four to six months before power is restored.
That didn’t hold Trump back from declaring the storm response a success.
The White House referenced comments by Puerto Rican officials on CNN, which were more mixed than the "generous" praise he described.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló sung Trump’s praises while pressing for further assistance.
"Well, the president has been phenomenal in this situation," Rosselló said on CNN. "He's been, both in Irma and Maria, he has offered an pre- landfall emergency declaration. He's already declared most of the island a disaster area so that we can start the rebuilding process quickly. And he just said that he loved the people of Puerto Rico, and that he would help, that he would stand by us in our rebuilding process."
Rosselló nonetheless said that more resources would be needed to address the process on Bloomberg.
"Administration, they've been helpful up until now," Rosselló said. "But we need more help. We need more help. We need more resources. And at the same time, Congress solidarity and all of the help that they've pledged through social media and phone calls with our staff. Now is the time to materialize it."
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz acknowledged, "We are getting a lot of logistics help." But she expressed frustration with Trump's tweets on the devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
"Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well," Trump tweeted."
You don’t put debt above people. You put people above debt," Yulin Cruz said on CNN. "There is a human moral imperative to deal with that situation first."
Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Oct. 3.
Youtube, President Donald Trump, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy hold joint news conference, Sept. 26, 2017
WhiteHouse.gov, Remarks by President Trump Before Meeting with Bipartisan Members of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Sept. 26, 2017Email interview with Steven Cheung, White House spokesman, Sept. 26, 2017
Phone and email interview with Dennis Feltgen, National Hurricane Center spokesman, Sept. 26, 2017
Bloomberg, Puerto Ricans’ Plea for Aid From Uncle Sam: We’re Americans, Too, Sept. 26, 2017
Vox, Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico as a Category 4: what we know, Sept. 20, 2017
CNN, 'Apocalyptic' devastation in Puerto Rico, and little help in sight, Sept. 26, 2017
Youtube, San Juan mayor to Trump: You don't put debt over people, Sept. 26, 2017
PolitiFact, Hurricane Irma can't be a Category 6 storm, Sept. 6, 2017
CNN.com, Transcript, Sept. 22, 2017