At first, the Trump administration seemed to be doing all the right things to respond to the disaster in Puerto Rico.
As Hurricane Maria made landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 20, there was a frenzy of activity publicly and privately. The next day, President Trump called local officials on the island, issued an emergency declaration and pledged that all federal resources would be directed to help.
But then for four days after that — as storm-ravaged Puerto Rico struggled for food and water amid the darkness of power outages — Trump and his top aides effectively went dark themselves.
Trump jetted to New Jersey that Thursday night to spend a long weekend at his private golf club there, save for a quick trip to Alabama for a political rally. Neither Trump nor any of his senior White #House aides said a word publicly about the unfolding crisis.
Trump did hold a meeting at his golf club that Friday with half a dozen Cabinet officials — including acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine #Duke, who oversees disaster response — but the gathering was to discuss his new travel ban, not the hurricane. Duke and Trump spoke briefly about Puerto Rico but did not talk again until Tuesday, an administration official said.
Administration officials would not say whether the president spoke with any other top officials involved in the storm response while in Bedminster, N.J. He spent much of his time over those four days fixated on his escalating public feuds with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with fellow Republicans in Congress and with the National Football League over protests during the national anthem.
In Puerto Rico, meanwhile, the scope of the devastation was becoming clearer. Virtually the entire island was without power and much of it could be for weeks, officials estimated, and about half of the more than 3 million residents did not have access to clean water. Gas was in short supply, airports and ports were in disrepair, and telecommunications infrastructure had been destroyed.
Federal and local officials said the lack of communications on the island made the task of assessing the widespread damage far more challenging, and even local officials were slow to recognize that for this storm, far more help would be necessary.
“I don’t think that anybody realized how bad this was going to be,” said a person familiar with discussions between Washington and officials in Puerto Rico. “Quite frankly, the level of communications and collaboration that I’ve seen with Irma and now Maria between the administration, local government and our office has been unprecedented.”