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Death Toll Doubles in Puerto Rico, Trump Delivers New Criticism and Praise

10-03-2017

The governor of Puerto Rico says the official death toll from Hurricane Maria has been raised from from 16 to 34 people. The revised death toll came right after President Donald Trump's visit to the U.S. territory.

The island's Gov. Ricardo Rossello also says the hurricane caused $90 billion in damage across the island.

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Puerto Rico Tuesday to meet with some of the 3.4 million people struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Trump praised Rossello and the federal response to the hurricane. And he congratulated Puerto Ricans for avoiding a high death toll of "a real catastrophe like Katrina," the hurricane that killed as many as 1,800 people in 2005 in New Orleans.

The president also didn't steer away from recent controversies.

Right after he arrived, he defended his administration's handling of the disaster and repeated his argument that Puerto Ricans need to help with the recovery, also scolding them for a longstanding budget crisis.  

"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico," he said.

"But that's fine," he said, "because we've saved a lot of lives."

His budget comment was a reference to the island's $74 billion public debt load and a decade-old economic recession.

Rossello has worked closely with the White House in coordinating recovery efforts, but the mayor of San Juan has been vocal about what she sees as a slow response to the crisis.

"We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency," Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said of the Trump administration during a press conference last Friday.

Over the weekend Trump fired back on Twitter.

More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria, the island nation still faces dire conditions. 

Even as military and civilians work to hand out one million meals and two million gallons of water, 90 percent of residents are still without power or phone service.

Rural areas have not yet even been visited and assessed because they're inaccessible. 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday the president's trip will be about the recovery.

"The top priority for the federal government is certainly to protect the lives and the safety of those in affected areas and provide life-sustaining services as we work together to rebuild their lives," she said.
 

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