Puerto Rico mayor blames Donald Trump for soaring Hurricane Maria death count: ‘It’s a historic failing’

Chris Riotta

Puerto Rico's mayor of San Juan has sharpened her attacks against Donald Trump, blaming his administration for "structural negligence" that led to thousands of deaths in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Carmen Yulín Cruz said the president was responsible for the federal government’s slow response to the deadly hurricane estimated to have killed nearly 3,000 people, during an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on the one-year anniversary of the storm.

"This is President Trump’s Katrina," the mayor said, referring to the catastrophic hurricane that struck the US in August 2005. "He can spin it all he wants — 3,000 people died on his watch."

Ms Cruz has frequently criticised Mr Trump ever since Hurricane Maria’s impact was felt across the US territory, while the president has said he earned a "10 out of 10" for his government’s disaster recovery efforts. He's also denied the revised death count from the storm of 2,975, claiming the study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government was a conspiracy created by Democrats to make him "look bad".

The mayor's latest comments arrived shortly after the deadly Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas, Virginia and other parts of the country. Mr Trump travelled to impacted regions during the week after warning that the storm would be "tremendously big and a tremendously wet" hurricane.

The president was restrained during his visit to North Carolina on Wednesday, serving as consoler-in-chief while touting the storm's damage.

His response to the latest storm appeared to show the president’s greater care and concern for Americans in the mainland US, Ms Cruz suggested.

"You see the contrast right now,” she said. "Thank God the situation is different in North Carolina and South Carolina. But you see the president’s attention: he doesn't go there to throw paper towels."

Carmen Yulin Cruz shakes hands with a humbled US President Donald Trump after he criticised her leadership in the the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Ms Cruz added, "Today, 3,000 Puerto Ricans opened their eyes, and because they didn't have insulin, they didn't have appropriate medical care, they didn't have dialysis, and they didn't have access to their medication, they died."

The president has sparred directly with Ms Cruz, who previously told The Independent that he has personally attacked her "just out of spite".

In one instance, the mayor was invited to participate in a White House conference call to discuss relief efforts, only to be reportedly be told not to speak.

He’s also mocked her on Twitter and in multiple speeches, describing Ms Cruz as the “incompetent mayor of San Juan”.