clock menu more-arrow no yes

A mayor in Puerto Rico asked for more help. Now Trump is insulting her on Twitter.

Meanwhile, a relief worker at the island described the situation as “societal collapse.”

The mayor of San Juan is begging for help from federal officials as Puerto Rico tries to recover from Hurricane Maria. Meanwhile, from his New Jersey golf club, President Donald Trump responded by starting a feud with her on Twitter.

It is simply not true that things are going well in Puerto Rico. You can read more about the disaster there that has ensued after Hurricane Maria in Brian Resnick and Eliza Barclay’s explainer.

A coordinated response is underway to bring relief to the island’s residents, but it’s been chaotic and mismanaged. Much of the island is still without power, shelter, the ability to use mobile phones, and basic supplies, particularly fuel.

One relief worker gave Politico a particularly dire take. “We have to think of this as societal collapse: no power, no water, no food, no nothing,” the official said. “We came in thinking this would be a traditional model of disaster response. … Civil society is pretty much gone, and we didn’t realize that until like 36 or 48 hours ago. And who knows when it’s going to end.”

This is why San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, has desperately tried to draw more urgency to the crisis. “This is a ‘people are dying’ story,” she told CNN on Friday morning, adding, “not a good news story.”

“I will do what I never thought I was going to do,” Cruz said in a press conference on Friday afternoon. “I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.”

This was a direct rebuke to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke’s remarks on Thursday that only a “limited number of deaths … have taken place,” and that overall, Puerto Rico was “a good news story.” As my colleague Julia Belluz explained, there’s a good chance that Duke simply has the facts wrong — and the death toll she relied on to make those comments was outdated. The most recent official figures at the time had the toll at 16, but reporters on the ground have suggested the number is now in the dozens and perhaps more than 100.

On Saturday, Cruz posted her own tweet an hour after Trump’s, saying that her only goal is “saving lives.”

According to a Washington Post analysis, the ensuing chaos on the island has been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s slow response. As the reality of the situation in Puerto Rico became more apparent, Trump was golfing, working on his travel ban, starting a feud with NFL players who protest during the national anthem, and escalating a war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Abby Phillip, Ed O'Keefe, Nick Miroff, and Damian Paletta gave a telling example in the Post:

Trump did hold a meeting at his golf club that Friday with half a dozen Cabinet officials — including acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke, who oversees disaster response — but the gathering was to discuss his new travel ban, not the hurricane. Duke and Trump spoke briefly about Puerto Rico but did not talk again until Tuesday, an administration official said.

Now Trump is spending his time on Twitter, trying to start a feud with the mayor of the biggest city in Puerto Rico — someone who should be a major partner for relief efforts there.

This is typical Trump, lashing out at anyone who seems to stand in his way. But in the middle of such a grave crisis, it’s unusually petty and even dangerous — all while lives are truly at stake.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.