In The Aftermath Of Hurricane Maria, President Trump Visits Puerto Rico

Oct 3, 2017
Originally published on October 3, 2017 8:19 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President Trump made his first visit to Puerto Rico today since the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria almost two weeks ago. The president and first lady Melania Trump stopped in the capital city of San Juan to meet local officials and see some of the damage for themselves. NPR's Mandalit del Barco is with us now from San Juan. Hi there, Mandalit.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Hello, Kelly.

MCEVERS: What's the president doing today?

DEL BARCO: President Trump and the first lady stepped off Air Force One at the Air Force base, greeted by the governor, Ricardo Rossello, who is holding his 3-year-old daughter. We saw them meet, and then Trump shook hands with some Air Force troops. The president was briefed about the hurricane relief. And what really stuck out was what he said about the cost of this effort, making a surprising comparison with Hurricane Katrina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now, 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. And that's fine. We've saved a lot of lives. If you look at the - 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's ever seen anything like this.

DEL BARCO: You know, after making this comparison, Trump and the first lady went onto a chapel to hand out supplies and take pictures with victims of the hurricane.

MCEVERS: How did people react to his words and to him being there in general?

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, San Juan is just gridlocked right now because of the president's visit. There's no working traffic lights. And people have been telling us all week and today that they're really hoping that Trump's visit will finally kick in the relief operations into high gear. People are still without clean drinking water and electricity. And some parts of the island, especially in the interior, are completely destroyed. In Santurce, we met Marcos Falcon in a hardhat. He was shoveling debris from a tree that was uprooted. He's doing this on his own for a private company, not the government. And we asked him about Trump's visit.

MARCOS FALCON: (Through interpreter) Any help will be great given the circumstances we're living in. Small or big, intentions matter.

DEL BARCO: Also, we met up with Carlos Cabrera. He's the artistic director of the Ballet Concierto, and he had this to say about the visit.

CARLOS CABRERA: For me, it's pure politics because emergency just happened two weeks before. And I think he wait - have waited so much to really take care of our situation.

DEL BARCO: Pure politics, he said, and he waited a long time to come here to the island.

MCEVERS: Last week, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz had criticized federal officials for calling the recovery in Puerto Rico a good news story. And she was basically saying they didn't get it. And then Trump fired back on Twitter. Did those two meet today?

DEL BARCO: They did meet, and I don't know how uncomfortable that meeting might have been given the series of tweets that President Trump sent over the weekend. He also met with mayors from around the island, and he also had high praise for the governor, who apparently has not said anything to upset him. He even noted that he's not even in his party. It's a brief visit. Trump heads to Las Vegas tomorrow. But Vice President Pence is supposed to arrive in San Juan on Thursday.

MCEVERS: NPR's Mandalit del Barco in San Juan, Puerto Rico, thank you very much.

DEL BARCO: Thanks, Kelly.

MCEVERS: And in a press conference this evening, the governor of Puerto Rico announced the number of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria had more than doubled to 34. He estimated the storm caused more than $90 billion of damage to the island. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.