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San Juan mayor dismisses Trump's 'unsung success' view of Maria response

SAN JUAN (Reuters) - San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, rejected his characterization of the administration’s response as being an “unsung success.”

Cruz told Reuters on Wednesday that people facing Hurricane Florence, a slow-moving Category 3 storm due to hit the Carolinas, could die unless Trump learned lessons a year ago when Maria slammed into the U.S. commonwealth.

“The world has seen and the majority of the American people have seen how neglectful he was towards the people of Puerto Rico. If he calls a success or an unsung success 3,000 people dying by his watch, definitely he doesn’t know what success is,” Cruz said.

“If he thinks this is about him and about politics and about positioning himself, he is going to make the same mistakes and people will die as they did die in Puerto Rico,” she said.

Despite facing criticism of his efforts, Trump on Tuesday said his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done,” as well as “an incredible unsung success.”

A study ordered by Puerto Rico’s government found the Category-4 storm killed an estimated 2,975 people either directly or indirectly from the time it struck in September 2017 to mid-February. Maria knocked out power to all 3.4 million residents and left thousands without a home.

Although the San Juan mayor sees some improvement in Puerto Rico’s recovery, she believes there is still much that needs to be done.

FILE PHOTO: Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz stands outside of the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum days after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

There are still, for instance, about 45,000 homes with “blue roofs,” as tarps installed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are called.

“These people are not now going to be able to withstand even a Category 1 hurricane in their homes”, she said.

As for the almost $50 billion in federal funds already approved by Congress for Puerto Rico’s rebuilding, Cruz said most of it had not been disbursed by the federal government.

While accepting that Puerto Rico’s economy remains weak and in need of aid, Cruz stressed that whatever resources the federal government can provide should go to address the emergency on the U.S. East Coast as it braces for Hurricane Florence.

“North Carolina and South Carolina are going to be running into a life and death situation. We are not in a 100 percent life and death situation,” Cruz said.

“When the government left us to die, the American people reached out to us. So it is time to pay it forward. If resources have to be taken away from here to save lives in North Carolina and South Carolina, we will manage,” Cruz said.

Trump said on Tuesday that his administration was “totally prepared” for Florence and would spare no expense in responding to it.

“Nobody is ready for a hurricane (Category) 5 or 4,” Cruz warned.

Florence, Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, is expected to make landfall on Friday with 130 mile-per-hour (215 kph) winds and big waves, with rains taking a heavy toll inland.

More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Reporting By Luis Valentin Ortiz; Editing by Daniel Bases, Robert Birsel