President Trump on Tuesday attempted to diminish the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, telling reporters the disaster wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina.
At a meeting with officials in San Juan on Tuesday, the president also noted the enormous cost associated with the hurricane relief and rescue mission in Puerto Rico, saying that the hurricane relief efforts had “thrown our budget a little out of whack.”
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine,” Trump said. “We saved a lot of lives.”
Trump then compared the death counts between Hurricane Katrina and the death toll from Hurricane Maria, which has not been updated in nearly a week.
“If you looked — every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody has seen anything like this,” Trump said.
“What is your death count as of this morning, 17?” he said.
“Sixteen people certified,” Rosselló responded.
“Sixteen people certified versus in the thousands,” Trump said. “You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud.”
Here’s Trump comparing the death count in Puerto Rico to the death count in a “real catastrophe like Katrina” pic.twitter.com/lNCz4wYvMn
— Tasneem N (@TasneemN) October 3, 2017
As VOX noted this morning, the official death count has not budged since Wednesday, when the Puerto Rican government said that just 16 people had been killed as a result of the storm.
That prompted President Trump to claim Tuesday on his visit to the island that Puerto Rico wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, which had thousands of deaths.
Yet there is good reason to believe the actual figure is much higher than 16, and will continue to climb.
Omaya Sosa Pascual is a reporter with the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) in San Juan. She was skeptical of the government’s figure of 16 and began to call the 69 hospitals around the country, asking them about deaths related to the hurricane.
Pascual spoke to dozens of doctors, administrators, morgue directors, and funeral directors around the country, and wrote up her initial findings in a September 28 report in the Miami Herald. She then got Puerto Rico’s public safety secretary to confirm Monday that there have been dozens more deaths than the official statistic reflects. By her count, there are now an estimated 60 confirmed deaths linked to the hurricane and possibly hundreds more to come.