Published 6:36 PM EDT Sep 11, 2018
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump called the federal government's response last year to hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico an "incredible unsung success" despite a study released last month that put the death toll at nearly 3,000 people.
"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful," Trump told reporters, adding: "I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about."
Trump spoke about the response to Hurricane Maria as he discussed preparations for Hurricane Florence, a massive storm that is heading toward the U.S. East Coast, threatening record rains and historic flooding.
More: Trump administration defends response to Hurricane Maria after new study finds thousands died
From September 2017 to February 2018, 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, according to a study by George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health, which was commissioned by the Puerto Rican government. The study, released last month, showed a much higher death toll than the initial estimate of 64 people.
Trump said the recovery effort for Puerto Rico was complicated by the fact that it is an island and that its energy grid was in poor condition when the storm hit. "The problem with Puerto Rico is their electric grid and their electric generating plant was dead before the storms ever hit," Trump told reporters.
The president spoke before meeting with aides about preparations for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to hit the Carolinas and Virginia later this week.
While praising the Puerto Rico response, Trump did allude to the lack of power that plagued the island after its hurricane. He said there would not be a repeat in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
"Unlike Puerto Rico, you have very strong power companies," Trump said. "They’re very powerful, very well managed in the sense that they have tremendous overcapacity."
Critics blasted Trump's praise of the Puerto Rico response.
"Nearly 3,000 people died," tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. "That is not a 'success.' That is a tragedy and a disgrace."