Trump claims feds did 'a fantastic job' in Puerto Rico one day after death toll estimate soars to nearly 3,000

Alex Brandon | AP
President Donald Trump speaks during a discussion for drug-free communities support programs, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in Washington.

Less than a day after a new report confirmed that nearly 3,000 people on Puerto Rico died as a result of Hurricane Maria in 2017, President Donald Trump said he believes his administration "did a fantastic job" responding to the storm.

Speaking Wednesday at a White House drug abuse prevention event, the president said Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, "is very happy with the job we've done," and he noted that the island "had a lot of difficulties before it got hit" by the hurricane.

"We have put a lot of money and a lot of effort into Puerto Rico," Trump said, "and I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we've done."

On Tuesday, a new study by researchers at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health revised the estimated death toll from Hurricane Maria, originally tallied by the government at 64, up to 2,975 — more than 40 times higher than the initial count.

The figure represents what GWU researchers said were the number of "excess deaths" on Puerto Rico in the six months following the September hurricane. The new death toll makes Maria one of the deadliest storms ever to hit a U.S. state or territory.

Trump said on Wednesday that the federal government has spent "millions and millions" of dollars helping Puerto Rico recover, a task that was complicated, he said, by the fact that the island's electric grid had been in disrepair long before Maria plunged 95 percent of Puerto Ricans into darkness.

In the year since the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which designates disaster recovery funds, has earmarked at least $13.7 billion of aid funding to Puerto Rico.

Dependent upon federal aid from the Trump administration, Rossello has been reluctant to publicly criticize the federal government's response to the hurricane. On Tuesday, the governor pledged his "commitment to making sure that I do everything that's within my power so that under other circumstances like this, we are much better prepared."

Several other leaders on the island, however, have not shied away from criticizing the Trump administration for what they say was a slow, disorganized response.

Speaking to MSNBC on Wednesday following Trump's White House comments, Carmen Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, placed responsibility for failures in the aftermath of the storm squarely at the feet of the White House. "The Trump administration failed the people of Puerto Rico," she said.

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