With Hurricane Florence churning toward the Carolinas, President Donald Trump on Tuesday hailed his administration’s response to last year’s storm in Puerto Rico, where researchers have estimated there were nearly 3,000 excess deaths.
In remarks in the Oval Office, Trump said his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was “an incredible, unsung success” and also incorrectly suggested that Puerto Rico had virtually no electricity before the storm.
It was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about,” Trump said. He was speaking in response to questions from reporters after receiving a briefing on Florence.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that his administration did a “fantastic job” in response to the disaster. Yet he has come under fire from critics who say that the response was ineffective and the death toll would have been far lower had his administration reacted more quickly.
His remarks prompted a sharp retort from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“Nearly 3,000 people died,” Sanders tweeted. “That is not a ‘success.’ That is a tragedy and a disgrace.”
Earlier Tuesday, Trump declared that the government is “absolutely, totally prepared” for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to bring destructive winds and catastrophic flooding
“We’re ready. FEMA is ready. Everybody is ready,” Trump said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We have everybody standing by. We hope for the best,” he said. “There’s a chance it could be a very bad one, as you’ve probably heard. . . . But we are absolutely, totally prepared.”
Trump made his brief comments at Joint Base Andrews as he returned to the Washington, D.C., area after a trip to Pennsylvania, where he participated in a memorial service for those who perished on Flight 93 amid the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Trump was responding to a reporter’s question.
Up until that point, the president had said relatively little about the hurricane, even as it started to dominate news coverage.
Later Tuesday, in the Oval Office, Trump said his administration was “as ready as anybody has ever been” and warned that the storm would be “tremendously big and tremendously wet – tremendous amount of water.”
“The safety of the American people is my absolute highest priority. We are sparing no expense,” Trump said.
He was speaking with reporters after a briefing on the hurricane by FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Trump added that he had spoken with the governors of Virginia and the Carolinas.
On Monday afternoon, he sent a tweet cautioning residents of the two states believed to be most at risk.
“To the incredible citizens of North Carolina, South Carolina and the entire East Coast – the storm looks very bad!” Trump said. “Please take all necessary precautions. We have already began mobilizing our assets to respond accordingly, and we are here for you!”