SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump praised his administration on Tuesday for “doing a really good job” with disaster relief for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, discounting complaints that aid has been slow to reach the U.S. island territory.
Trump agreed to boost federal disaster assistance, ordering increased funding be made available to assist with debris removal and emergency protective measures. He also said he would pay a visit on Oct. 3 to Puerto Rico, as well as to the U.S. Virgin Islands, a neighboring Caribbean territory struggling to recover from two major hurricanes in a single month.
Democratic leaders in Congress and some residents in Puerto Rico have accused the Republican administration of being more sluggish in its response than it would to a disaster on the U.S. mainland, even though Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
The criticism was heightened by a series of Twitter messages by Trump on Monday about hurricane damage on Puerto Rico in which he also referred to the island’s $72 billion debt crisis and bankruptcy.
“Much of the Island has been destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with,” he tweeted.
Maria roared ashore Puerto Rico last Wednesday as the most powerful hurricane to strike the island in nearly a century, knocking out the territory’s entire electrical grid, unleashing severe flooding and causing widespread heavy damage to homes and infrastructure.
The storm has claimed more than 30 lives across the Caribbean, including at least 15 in Puerto Rico.
It was the third major hurricane to hit the United States in less than a month, following Harvey in Texas and Irma, which ranked as the most powerful Atlantic storm on record before thrashing several Caribbean islands and Florida. Maria was downgraded to a tropical storm on Tuesday, far off the coast of North Carolina.
“We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico,” Trump told reporters in Washington. “The difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”
Trump visited Texas and Florida after Harvey and Irma. The last Republican president, George W. Bush, faced widespread criticism for his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, which killed some 1,800 people in and around New Orleans in…