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Story highlights

"Every death is a horror," Trump said

Locals hoped to impress upon the President the magnitude of the devastation

(CNN) —  

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island of Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump touched down for the first time and immediately downplayed the devastation.

“Every death is a horror,” Trump began, before comparing Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 16 to “a real catastrophe, like Katrina,” in which more than 1,800 people perished from the 2005 storm that ravaged New Orleans.

Just hours earlier, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned reporters that he expected the death toll to climb. After Trump departed, he announced the death toll had risen to 34.

Trump’s post-storm visit checked all the boxes: He was briefed by local and federal officials, toured a residential neighborhood to speak to locals about storm damage and doled out emergency supplies at a church. He did it all while lauding the disaster relief response.

“The job that has been done here really is nothing short of a miracle,” Trump said.

Earlier in the day, he offered his administration an A+ grade for its disaster relief efforts in Texas and Florida, adding that Puerto Rico was right up there with them.

In his visit to Calvary Chapel, Trump applied his typical showmanship to the normally staid task of distributing emergency supplies.

“I’ve never seen that before,” he remarked, as he held aloft canned meat. He lobbed rolls of paper towels into the crowd as if he were tossing out free t-shirts at a football game.

At one point, he handed out flashlights. “You don’t need them anymore,” the President remarked. By Tuesday, power had been restored to less than 7% of Puerto Rico.

Magnitude of devastation

01:01 - Source: CNN Business
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Local officials had hoped to impress upon the President the magnitude of the devastation. Puerto Rico’s governor had printed out photos of destruction from across the island to give Trump a better sense of the scope. He said efforts to rebuild this US territory would only be successful with a robust federal aid package.

More than half the island still doesn’t have access to drinkable water or telecommunications systems. The power grid will have to be almost entirely rebuilt.