Trump says Puerto Rico threw budget out of whack, throws paper towels

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U.S. President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 3, 2017 Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

US President Donald Trump said in Puerto Rico on Tuesday that the cost of recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria had thrown federal budget "out of whack.” He also praised officials and first responders for preventing the storm from becoming a "real catastrophe” as well as for the low official death toll. However, he has been criticised for throwing paper towels into a crowd of survivors.

The US leader visited Puerto Rico two weeks after Maria to assess the damage and recovery efforts. Almost 3.5 million residents were left without power and tens of thousands without clean water.

After introducing Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Trump had discussed the effect of Hurricane Maria on the federal budget. "I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you threw our budget a little out of whack, but that’s fine because we’ve saved a lot of lives,” Trump said at a briefing. He compared the island’s relatively low death toll with that caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The official death count is at 16. But the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, a local investigative journalism project, said last week that the real total was likely to be higher.

Trump expressed how impressed he was with disaster relief workers’ response to the storm, saying he had never seen people working so hard in his life. He added that some men and women worked tirelessly in the wake of Hurricane Maria as well as in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

Package rolls of paper towel for Puerto Rico survivors

Some netizens were quick to criticise the president after he was filmed throwing package rolls of paper towels. The trip offered Trump the chance to help survivors who still struggle for basic needs.

“No one in this picture is smiling, I guess paper towel didn't do it for them,” one Twitter user wrote. Trump’s administration has been criticized for offering an optimistic view of the federal government's response.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke called the response to the disaster a "good news story.” The comment was contradicted by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who said it was a "people are dying story.”

Trump slammed "fake news" organisations, saying they do not recognise the work the Federal Emergency Management Agency is doing. The "floating hospital" ship intended to treat hundreds of Puerto Ricans facing medical crises called the USNS Comfort also arrived in Puerto Rico.

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