“We Have Done a Great Job”: What Trump Tweeted as Thousands of Puerto Ricans Died

The president no longer says much about Hurricane Maria.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria.Evan Vucci/AP

On Tuesday, researchers at Harvard published a new study showing that the death toll from Hurricane Maria was 75 times higher than what the government had previously reported. By that calculation, it was 290 times higher than the 16 fatalities President Donald Trump himself announced during a visit to the island last year, during a bizarre appearance in which he contrasted the devastation in front of him with “a real catastrophe, like Katrina.” (We now know that Maria was more than twice as deadly as Katrina.) With the exception of the 1900 hurricane that wiped out Galveston, Texas, Maria killed more Americans than any other disaster on record, including the Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquake. It killed more people than the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Trump has not commented publicly on the study. In fact, he hasn’t tweeted about Puerto Rico in seven months. But his statements about the island in the immediate aftermath of the storm are worth revisiting in light of the new numbers.

His tweets generally fell into two categories: absolving himself of responsibility for rebuilding, and demanding credit for the response. In the former, Trump frequently referred to the island’s pre-existing economic problems, implying that any complications with the recovery effort wouldn’t be his fault.

“Big decisions will have to made” isn’t exactly subtle, and a subsequent investigation by Politico puts these tweets in a clearer context: In the aftermath of last summer’s storms, the administration treated Texas—which was hammered by Hurricane Harveyfar more favorably than it did Puerto Rico.

But Trump also heaped praise on his own disaster response, even as the death toll in Puerto Rico mounted:

And lastly:

Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Katrina turned “heckuva job”—a stray comment from President George W. Bush about his FEMA director, Michael Brown—into a generation-defining gaffe. Trump said the same thing about himself, and we’ve hardly talked about it since.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.