Trump on Puerto Rican crisis: 'This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water'

President Donald Trump on Friday said “there’s never been anything like” the devastation in Puerto Rico, which is facing a humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricane Maria sweeping through the Caribbean island last week.

“There’s nothing left. It’s been wiped out,” Trump said during a Friday morning speech to the National Association of Manufacturers.

The president opened his speech on tax reform with his comments on the federal government’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“I’d like to begin by sending our thoughts and prayers to the people of Puerto Rico, who have been struck by storms of historic and catastrophic severity,” Trump said. “We’ve undertaken a massive federal mobilization to assist Puerto Rico.”

The president said 10,000 emergency responders and other personnel have been sent to the island. Emphasising the difficulty of the task of rebuilding devastated areas, Trump noted that the US territory is “an island surrounded by water.”

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this,” Trump said. “This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”

He added that Puerto Rico will have to rebuild its infrastructure from “scratch.”

“The electrical grid and other infrastructure were already in very, very poor shape, they were at their life’s end prior to the hurricanes, and now virtually everything has been wiped out,” Trump said. “We’re literally starting from scratch.”

Trump said the federal government will work with Puerto Rico to figure out how to fund the rebuilding effort and “what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.”

Trump has been criticised for appearing to be less attentive to Puerto Rico than to Texas and Florida following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The president’s first public response to Hurricane Maria came in a series of tweets in which he focused on the island’s weak infrastructure and economy five days after the storm hit.

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