President Donald Trump noted during a meeting with Puerto Rican officials that disaster relief for the storm-ravaged U.S. territory was costing the federal government money.
On Oct. 3, Trump met with Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello and disaster management officials in San Juan, the island capital. The president stated that hurricane relief efforts for Puerto Rico had been expensive.
"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack because we spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that's fine," Trump said, according to The Hill. "We saved a lot of lives."
On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 5 storm in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The hurricane crippled Puerto Rico's electrical grid and devastated much of its infrastructure. As of Oct. 3, 95 percent of the U.S. territory was without power and more than half of its residents still did not have access to potable water, Politico reports.
Trump praised Rossello for being complimentary of the U.S. government response to the disaster and asserted that the death count following Hurricane Maria was something to be proud of.
"If you looked -- every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overbearing, nobody has seen anything like this," Trump continued.
The president noted that there were 16 certified deaths as a result of the hurricane.
"You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together," Trump told Puerto Rican officials. "16 versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud.”
The number of fatalities associated with the hurricane is likely higher than Trump cited. Puerto Rican officials have not updated the official death toll since Sept. 27. San Juan-based journalist Omaya Sosa Pascual of the Center for Investigative Journalism found that the numbers of deaths resulting from the storm was roughly 60.
"Some of the people who work in the government lost their homes themselves and aren’t at work," Pascual told Vox. "So they can’t do death certificates. The dead can’t be documented because of all the logistics and legal aspects of declaring someone dead."
Following the press conference, Trump traveled to a relief center to meet with displaced Puerto Rican residents. The president handed out food supplies to people and tossed paper towels to the crowd the way a basketball player shoots a ball into a hoop, USA Today reports.
"There's a lot of love in this room," Trump said.