By Nick Brown and James Oliphant
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/BRANCHBURG, N.J (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who has been critical of the federal response to the devastation on the island, saying on Saturday that she was showing “poor leadership.”
In a series of early-morning tweets, Trump also appeared to blame some of Puerto Rico's residents for the slow pace of relief from the battering caused by Hurricane Maria, saying “they want everything to be done for them.”
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” the Republican president wrote from his private golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, where he is spending the weekend. “Such poor leadership by the Mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
Trump on Twitter also again defended the federal response, saying that the military and first responders were doing an "amazing job", and blasted the news media, whom he said were disparaging relief workers.
The president is scheduled to speak to the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, by telephone on Saturday.
Trump’s outburst came after a day after San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, delivered a sharp retort to comments from a top Trump administration official, who said the federal relief effort was a “a good-news story.”
“Damn it, this is not a good-news story," Cruz told CNN. "This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story."
Cruz was referring to a remark by acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, head of the parent department for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who said on Thursday she was satisfied with the disaster response so far. [nL2N1MB00A]
"I know it is really a good-news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane," Duke said.
The president offered a similar assessment speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday.
“It’s a tough situation,” Trump said. “The loss of life, it’s always tragic but it’s been incredible, the results we’ve had with respect to loss of life. People can’t believe how successful that’s been, relatively speaking.”
Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, has killed at least 16 people on the island, according to the official death toll. More than 30 deaths have been attributed to the storm across the Caribbean.
Cruz on Friday also bristled at suggestions that the relief effort had been well-coordinated.
"There is a disconnect between what the FEMA people are saying is happening and what the mayors and the people in the towns know that is happening," Cruz, who has been living in a shelter since her own home was flooded, said on CNN.
Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: "Help us. We are dying," Cruz said she was hopeful the situation would improve, but added, "People can't fathom what it is to have children drinking from creeks, to have people in nursing homes without oxygen."
The mayor of San Germán, a town of about 35,000 in the southwestern corner of the island, echoed Cruz's harsh words.
"The governor is giving a message that everything is resolved, and it is not true," Mayor Isidro Negron Irizarry said in Spanish on Twitter. "There is no functional operations structure. We are alone."
Ground transportation, hampered by fuel shortages and streets blocked with fallen vegetation and utility wires, remained a major challenge.
More troops, medical supplies and vehicles were on the way to the island, but it will be some time before the U.S. territory is back on its feet, the senior U.S. general appointed to lead military relief operations said on Friday.
Meanwhile, the insurance industry was tallying the mounting costs of Maria, with one modeling firm estimating that claims could total as much as $85 billion. [nL2N1M825J]
(Reporting by James Oliphant in BRANCHBURG, N.J., Robin Respaut and Dave Graham in SAN JUAN, Doina Chiacu, Roberta Rampton, Justin Mitchell and Makini Brice in WASHINGTON, and Lisa Maria Garza in DALLAS and Suzanne Barlyn in NEW YORK; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)