Donald Trump tells Puerto Ricans hurricane damage has put US budget 'out of whack'

Donald Trump during a briefing in Puerto Rico. Credit: AP

US President Donald Trump has joked Puerto Rico's damage from Hurricane Maria has put the budget "out of whack".

Mr Trump and the First Lady touched down on Tuesday morning to inspect the devastated island after the Category 5 storm left 34 dead in the US territory.

The president was joined by Puerto Rico and Federal Emergency Management Authority officials for a briefing at National Guard base in the capital San Juan.

Among those in attendance were Governor Ricardo Rossello, who the president had praised for his kind words about the Trump administration's recovery efforts, as well as San Juan Mayor Carmen Yelin Cruz, who Mr Trump had chastised for pleading for more help.

Speaking after the President's visit, Mr Rossello estimated that the hurricane caused £68 billion of damage across the island.

Puerto Rico's already fragile power grid was wiped out by the September 20 hurricane, and there was criticism of the relief effort.

Mr Trump attempted to make light of the situation when sat down for a briefing after his arrival.

"Now I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack," Mr Trump said, referring to Puerto Rico's $74 billion (£56b) public debt load and a decade-old economic recession.

"Because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico and that's fine, we've saved a lot of lives."

The president then went on to compare the aftermath of Maria to that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which saw as many as 1,800 people killed.

"Every death is a horror, 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.

"Nobody's ever seen anything like this."

Later during the visit he tossed paper towels out to a crowd of the island's residents who were being handed supplies.

On his first visit to survey damage from Hurricane Maria, the president lobbed at least five rolls into a crowd gathered at Calvary Chapel. Many caught them with a smile and took photos.

Speaking after his tour of storm damage, the president called it a "terrific visit" and added that the residents of the island were "so thankful for what we've done".

Following the visit, Ms Cruz said she was hopeful that the Trump administration now has a better handle on the island's needs.

She continued that meetings between local officials and White House staff were "productive" and hoped that new channels of communication would "put in motion what is needed to save lives".

However, in an interview with US media, Ms Cruz remained critical of President Trump, saying he sometimes "spouts" comments "that really hurt the people of Puerto Rico".

She continued that rather than being commander in chief, the 71-year-old is sometimes more "miscommunicator in chief".

Meanwhile, two Democratic Congressmen who had also visited the storm-hit island said conditions in many places remained dire.

Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois attacked the President's failure to visit the mountainous interior regions where many sick and elderly people are trapped.

Mr Gutierrez continued that footage of Mr Trump's visit which showed people smiling was giving "the wrong impression of what's going on in the island".

While Representative Adriano Espaillat of New York said conditions on many parts of the island are so serious that a £15 billion relief package is needed just for starters.

Damaged homes and trees in the Yabucoa area of Puerto Rico. Credit: PA

The trip is Mr Trump's fourth to areas battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season that has also seen parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the US Virgin Islands inundated by floodwaters and hit by high winds.