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Trump lobs praise, and paper towels, to Puerto Rico storm victims

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    President Donald Trump gestures after arriving at the Luis Muñiz Air National Guard Base in San Juan, Puerto Rico today. Trump is visiting Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    President Donald Trump talks with Governor Ricardo Rosselló, center, carrying his daughter in his arms after his arrival at the Luis Muñiz Air National Guard Base in San Juan, Puerto Rico today. Trump is visiting Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, listens to questions from reporters as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington today for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. and then on to Puerto Rico.

WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump ventured today to a storm-ravaged American island territory where residents have felt neglected by their government, telling Puerto Rican officials that they should be proud that only 16 people were known to have died in Hurricane Maria.

“Sixteen versus in the thousands,” Trump said, comparing the storm’s certified death toll to the 1,833 killed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, which he described as a “real catastrophe.”

“You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together,” he said. “Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud.”

Shortly after Trump departed the island, however, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told a news conference in San Juan that deaths related to Hurricane Maria had risen to 34.

Except for that sad adjustment, the trip marked a well-worn routine for a president on his fourth visit to a disaster zone in two months: a briefing with officials in an aircraft hangar, a quick drive past twisted houses and uprooted trees and a brief, friendly encounter with victims.

And like his earlier travels, it had its peculiar moments: He gently tossed rolls of paper towels into a crowd that had gathered to see him at Calvary Chapel, outside the island’s capital, San Juan.

This time, however, Trump flew into a different kind of turbulence. Over the weekend, the president lashed out at the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, after she had complained that the federal response in Puerto Rico had fallen short of the responses in Texas and Florida.

“The first part of the meeting was a public-relations situation,” Cruz said in an interview with CNN about the briefing. While she said the White House staff had been helpful and receptive, Trump’s communications style sometimes “gets in the way.”

Trump greeted the mayor but did not invite her to speak, recognizing instead Rosselló, whom the president said “did not play politics,” and its congressional representative, who lavishly applauded the administration’s performance.

“Thank you, Mr. President, for all you have been doing for the island,” said the representative, Jenniffer González-Colón, after declaring that Washington had sent everything Puerto Rico needed.

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