Puerto Rico raises Hurricane Maria death toll to 34

San Juan, Oct 4 (IANS) The death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has risen from 16 to 34, the island’s Governor has said.

Ricardo Rossello told a press conference on Tuesday that 19 people were killed by the hurricane while 15 others died in related incidents. He added that the estimated material damage was around $90 billion.

The Governor also commented on US President Donald Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico and said he had highlighted the importance of the recovery process to Trump as well as the urgent need to fully restore electricity on the island, Efe news reported.

According to the latest official figures, only about six per cent of homes have power. Rossello refused to comment on “the optics” of Trump’s visit when asked about the President’s statements earlier on Tuesday.

Trump visited a church in Guaynabo where he distributed supplies to hurricane victims, including rolls of paper towels. He praised Puerto Rican authorities for keeping down the loss of life from Maria.

“You can be very proud of your people and all of our people working together,” the President said on his first visit to Puerto Rico since Maria struck on September 20 as a Category 4 hurricane that knocked out power, water and telecommunications service.

Some 12,000 civilian federal workers and a much smaller number of US military personnel were in Puerto Rico to deliver aid and assist with relief efforts, though many criticised Washington for its delayed response to the devastation.

One of those critics was San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz whose complaints prompted Trump to attack her on Twitter for her “poor leadership”.

The President shook hands with the Mayor during his Tuesday’s visit and again raised the issue of what Puerto Rico’s recovery will cost and how to pay for it.

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack… Because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. But that’s fine. We have saved a lot of lives — every death is a horror,” he said.

The storm added greatly to the woes of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents, who endured a decade-long recession made worse by austerity policies to deal with the island’s $72 billion debt.


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