President Donald Trump arrived in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday, following his war of words with Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of the U.S. territory’s capital, San Juan.
During his visit, reports CNN, Trump tried to downplay the disaster by comparing the damage wreaked by Hurricane Maria to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina — which he described as “a real catastrophe” — brought to New Orleans more than a decade ago.
“Every death is a horror but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds of people that died — and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering…no one has ever seen anything like this.”
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During a roundtable meeting with local officials that CNN described as “awkward,” Trump addressed Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, asking, “What is your death count? 17?” Rossello responded that there had been 16 fatalities.
“Sixteen people versus in the thousands,” responded Trump. “You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”
In addition to irking Puerto Ricans by joking that responding to the hurricane damage had thrown the federal budge “a little out of whack,” Trump really raised eyebrows when he visited a hurricane relief centre and began tossing rolls of paper towels into the crowd (as seen in the video above).
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Trump described the negative media coverage as “fake news” in a series of tweets.
Following the controversy, Trump appeared on former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s new talk show, airing on Pat Robertson’s religious Trinity Broadcasting Network, where he explained his motivation in tossing rolls of paper towels to hurricane survivors.
“They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels,” Trump told Huckabee. “And I came in and there was a crowd of a lot people. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having fun. They were having fun. They said, ‘Throw ‘em to me! Throw ‘em to me, Mr. President.’”
“You were a rock star!” Huckabee chimed in.
“If I do something wrong, treat me badly, but when we’re doing good it should be fair,” Trump griped. “The media is really, I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve used is fake — I guess other people have used it perhaps over the years, but I’ve never noticed it.”
You can see the entire interview below:
Meanwhile, reaction in the Twitterverse was not kind. At the time of Trump’s visit, many people took to social media to remark on the inappropriateness of the president’s actions, comparing tossing paper towels to firing a t-shirt cannon at a sporting event or hurling beads from a Mardi Gras float, all while addressing a tragedy that has resulted in thousands of people losing their homes and fighting to survive with limited food, electricity or clean water.
A few celebrities also got in on the action to slam the president, ranging from “Frozen” star Josh Gad to George Takei of “Star Trek” fame.