SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/BRANCHBURG, N.J (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Puerto Ricans on Saturday for the slow pace of relief from the devastating damage caused by Hurricane Maria, saying his government, which has come under fire for its response, was doing an “amazing job.”
Trump took to Twitter early on Saturday to fire back at the mayor of San Juan, the island’s largest city. On Friday, Carmen Yulin Cruz had criticized Trump’s administration and begged for more help, pleas that received widespread television coverage in the mainland United States.
Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, wiped out the power and communications systems, making it difficult to get food, water and fuel around the island. It has killed at least 16 people, according to the official death toll.
Trump, who was spending the weekend at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, said Cruz was attacking him for partisan reasons.
“Such poor leadership by the Mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help,” said Trump, who is slated to visit the island on Tuesday. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
Cruz, who has been living in a shelter after her home was destroyed in the hurricane, could not be immediately reached for comment.
But after Trump’s blast, she took to Twitter to thank Republican lawmakers who had visited the island.
“The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our ‘true colors,’” she said, posting pictures of Puerto Ricans helping others. “We cannot be distracted by anything else.”
Trump is scheduled to speak to the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, by telephone on Saturday.
At a news conference, Rossello, a Republican, declined to comment on Trump’s tweets, which he said he had not seen, and said he would not be drawn into a political fight.
“Let me stress this: I am committed to collaborating with everybody,” he said. “This is a point where we can’t look at small differences and establish differences based on politics.”
Rossello said the Trump administration has given his government “whatever we ask for” in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. But he warned that the U.S. Congress would need to help rebuild the island, which is home to 3.4 million Americans.
”If Congress doesn’t take action with a significant package, then we are looking at a possible humanitarian crisis,“ he said. “What are the effects of falling into that predicament? Massive exodus without a doubt.”
The insurance industry has begun to tally the mounting costs of Maria, with one modeling company estimating that claims could total as much as $85 billion.
Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Robin Respaut and Nicholas Brown in SAN JUAN, James Oliphant in BRANCHBURG, N.J., Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton in WASHINGTON, and Suzanne Barlyn in NEW YORK; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn