WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that his administration deserved a perfect 10 for its hurricane response in Puerto Rico, while Governor Ricardo Rossello urged federal authorities to show a long-term commitment to the US commonwealth’s reconstruction.
Trump and Rossello made their remarks at a joint press conference at the White House.
Rossello first paid a visit to Congress and then the White House on Thursday to press his message that much recovery work remains in Puerto Rico, noting that Hurricane Maria left 45 dead and that that Category 4 storm and the earlier Hurricane Irma destroyed 250,000 homes and devastated the island’s electricity and telecommunications infrastructure.
“It is the president’s commitment to work with the US citizens of Puerto Rico, to treat us equally on this event, to make sure that those 250,000 that have lost their homes get equal treatment, that we can start restoring the more than 42 roads that have been destroyed in Puerto Rico, that we can lift up our energy grid; and that is something that needs to start happening now,” said the governor, who thanked Trump for his administration’s efforts thus far.
Trump, meanwhile, said when asked to rate the White House’s response to the hurricanes that his administration deserved a perfect score.
“I’d say it was a 10. I’d say it was probably the most difficult when you talk about relief, when you talk about search, when you talk about all of the different levels, and even when you talk about lives saved. If you look at the number – I mean, this was – I think it was worse than Katrina. It was in many ways worse than anything people have ever seen,” the president said.
Trump’s political opponents have said the White House response in Puerto Rico was slower than in Texas or Florida, US states that also were hit by major hurricanes this season.
Rossello, for his part, stressed the importance of addressing immediate needs on the island, where just 20 percent of the population has power a month after Hurricane Maria, but also providing long-term solutions to stabilize Puerto Rico, which has been racked by a decade-long recession.
The US commonwealth, which says its $70 billion debt load is unpayable, filed for a form of bankruptcy protection in May that was the biggest-ever local-government bankruptcy filing in US history.
Before meeting with Trump, Rossello held several meetings in the US Congress aimed at securing funds for the reconstruction effort.
The US House of Representatives last week passed a $36.5 billion aid package to provide hurricane and wildfire relief funding, including for Puerto Rico. The Senate is expected to approve the package in the coming hours.
The governor has estimated that the hurricanes caused an estimated $90 billion in damage.