WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that he may pull disaster relief responders from Puerto Rico, though the U.S. territory is still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
In a string of tweets early Thursday, Trump declared Puerto Rico's electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a "disaster" even before being hit by Maria, which made landfall last month as a Category 4 hurricane and wreaked havoc on the island's housing and infrastructure.
While criticizing Puerto Rico for "a total lack of accountability," Trump quoted Sharyl Attkisson, a journalist of a conservative television network, as saying "Puerto Rico survived the hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making."
Trump wrote that it will be up to Congress to decide how much to spend on relief and rebuilding efforts, warning that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the military and the first responders cannot be kept there forever.
Trump's tweets came ahead of a vote, expected as early as later in the day, on a 36.5-billion-U.S.-dollar disaster relief bill to provide emergency relief to Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and wildfire-ravaged California.
Puerto Rico still remains largely without power and running water, with a shortage in medicine, fuel and other basic supplies. Authorities said as of Wednesday the death toll from Maria has reached 45, with over 100 people still unaccounted for.
"There is still devastation, Americans are still dying," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted in response to Trump's remarks, saying "FEMA needs to stay until the job is done."
Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Puerto Rican officials who called for more federal assistance and urged local residents to take more responsibility in post-disaster recovery.
In a visit to the island early October, Trump said the government's relief efforts in Puerto Rico had thrown the budget "a little out of whack" while stressing the death toll was much lower than the "real catastrophe" of Katrina, a devastating hurricane that killed over 1,800 in New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005.
Trump was criticized by local leaders for casually tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Rican residents at a disaster relief center.