“Hurricane Florence is looking even bigger than anticipated,” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning.
“We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!”
The tweet echoed comments he made Tuesday night during an Oval Office briefing about Florence, when he said despite the challenges of Puerto Rico being an island: “I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”
“The job that FEMA, and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous,” Trump added. “I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.”
WATCH: Hurricane Florence ‘as big as they’ve seen,’ Trump says
Trump’s comments come after the government’s response to Maria has been harshly criticized. A recent report put the death toll of the 2017 storm at nearly 3,000 people — most of whom died after the storm due to complications from widespread power outages and water shortages.
The comments struck a chord with Puerto Rican officials, who are still dealing with disaster relief from the hurricane last year.
The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who was specifically called out in Trump’s tweet Wednesday morning, responded.
Puerto Rico’s governor used the attention to call out the inequality between U.S. citizens and Puerto Rican citizens, who aren’t eligible to vote in U.S. elections.
“No relationship between a colony and the federal government can ever be called ‘successful’ because Puerto Ricans lack certain inalienable rights enjoyed by our fellow Americans,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said in a statement.
“Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of people lost their lives and many others still struggle
“Now is not the time to pass judgement it is the time to channel every effort to improve the lives of over 3 million Americans in Puerto Rico.”
He also asked the federal government to extend funding so the island can complete its recovery work.
Others called Trump’s remarks “blatantly false.”
“This is an offensive, hurtful and blatantly false comment from the president,” said Democratic House leader Chuck Schumer on Twitter. “Nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens died in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. That is the complete opposite of ‘success.’”
Sen. Bernie Sanders also criticized the comments saying: “Nearly 3,000 people died. That is not a ‘success.’ That is a tragedy and a disgrace.”
FEMA has given Puerto Rico more than $3 billion in support for Hurricane Maria related costs. It calls the response to Maria the “largest and longest federal response to a domestic disaster in the history of the United States.”
But at the time, critics said the U.S. government wasn’t adequately prepared, and the delayed response was less pronounced than the disaster response on the mainland.
A measured report from the Government Accountability Office released this month said FEMA suffered from “resource constraints,” and “insufficient bilingual employees” to communicate with Puerto Ricans after Maria.
The report also compared the government response to Hurricane Irma in Florida, which caused at least 74 deaths and US$150 billion in damages, to the response to Maria, which caused about 3,000 deaths and up to US$95 billion in damages. Florida received 4.8 million meals and 9.9 million litres of water, while Puerto Rico received 1.6 million meals and about 700,000 litres of water.
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Trump noted at the time that Puerto Rico was an island and therefore it was harder to supply.
The report also noted that the local government’s “plans were insufficient for the magnitude of Hurricane Maria,” and that the infrastructure in Puerto Rico was already outdated before Maria hit.
Communities in North and South Carolina are evacuating in preparation for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to hit the coast by Saturday.
“This is not going to be a glancing blow,” warned Jeff Byard, an administrator with FEMA. “This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”
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While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings extending over the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast, many weren’t taking any chances.
Trump has declared states of emergency for North and South Carolina and Virginia, opening the way for federal aid. He said the federal government is “absolutely, totally prepared” for Florence.
— with files from the Associated Pres