President Donald Trump touted his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, giving the federal relief effort a “10,” after noting that the storm’s devastation was worse than that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
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“I'd say it was a 10. I'd it was probably most difficult when you talk about relief, when you talk about search. When you talk about all of the different levels,” Trump said in a meeting in the Oval Office Thursday with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello. “And even when you talk about lives saves you look at numbers. I think it was worse than Katrina. In many ways, worse than anything we've seen.”
During a visit to the island earlier this month, the president said that the territory’s officials “can be proud” of the relatively low death toll on the island compared to Katrina, which resulted in the loss of over 1,200 lives in the U.S.'s Gulf Coast. As of Wednesday, the death toll in Puerto Rico sat at 48.
The president said he thinks the administration has done “a really great job,” while Rossello said much still has to be done on the island where more than 80 percent of electricity consumers remains without power four weeks after Maria’s devastation.
“A lot still has to be done. We're hopeful that with this meeting that we're going to have, we're going to talk about the immediate needs for Puerto Rico," Rossello told the president. "What we need to go to get out of the sustaining phase. What we need to do to stabilize Puerto Rico and what we need to do to build Puerto Rico stronger and better than before."
“I am confident that with your commitment, with your support, Mr. President, we'll be able to come out of this in the long haul together with Puerto Rico, give the citizens of Puerto Rico the adequate resources," said Rossello.
"Treat us the same as citizens in Texas and Florida and elsewhere," he added.
Prior to meeting with the president, Rossello revealed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to restore power to his besieged island’s electricity grid, according to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who met the governor and recounted his conversation to reporters.
“Apparently, according to the government of Puerto Rico, they have yet to execute on a power restoration contract to begin the restoration work, even the immediate work. So we need to see what are the impediments to that happening,” Rubio said after the nearly hour-long meeting.
He added, “Four weeks after the storm, they are where Florida was 48 hours after the storm.”
An Army Corps spokesperson told ABC News the corps does have personnel on the ground working towards power restoration in Puerto Rico. Though transmission repair crews haven't yet arrived on the island to erect new poles and power lines, crews are already at work at power plants, installing generators to serve the grid, she said.
Rubio also said the $36.5 billion disaster relief package, which the Senate is likely to vote on late Thursday night, is too wrapped up in red tape to provide immediate relief to the U.S. territory.
He said that in order for the Puerto Rican government to access some of the funds, it will first need to conduct time-consuming damage assessments, preventing the government from being able to immediately allocate the money.
“It's great that there's a bunch of money sitting there, that there's a pile of money ready to help with assistance, but if their ability to get a hold of that money and use it is going to require a three-month process, then it's not going to do a lot of good,” he said.
Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure was facing a "crisis" prior to Hurricane Maria, according to a report commissioned by the Puerto Rican Electrical Power Authority in November 2016. The analysis noted that the island's power grid was "literally falling apart" due to poor maintenance and planning.