The Caribbean islands struck first by Hurricane Irma face a daunting clean up in the wake of the monster storm, amid reports of looting and shortages of food and fuel. The tiny island of St. Martin/St. Maarten, home to 70,000 people, was one of the first areas lashed by powerful wind and rain, leaving four dead and causing widespread destruction. So far, the entire death toll from the natural disaster throughout the Caribbean has reached 36.
Calls for emergency aid to the island chain began almost as soon as the storm had passed and days later European assistance has begun to flow. French President Emmanuel Macron will fly into St Martin on Tuesday to survey the damage in the French colony, as authorities seek to deliver supplies of food and water. King Willem-Alexander visited the Dutch side of the island, St Maarten, on Monday as part of a tour of the region. Soon after arriving, he said: “We’re doing our best to help everybody who needs assistance so have faith in relief efforts.”
St Martin/St Marteen is just one of several small islands flattened by the storm. Neighboring islands, including the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, were all heavily affected by Hurricane Irma. Earlier, Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne estimated around 95% of the buildings on the island had been damaged, if not destroyed. ‘There’s no supplies’. Days after the storm, reports were emerging from St. Martin of food and fuel shortages, as well as a lack of clean water. Evacuees arriving in the United States spoke of their horror as the hurricane passed overhead and the difficult clean-up which has followed. “The problem now is there’s no supplies,” one woman told CNN at San Juan airport in Puerto Rico, where evacuees were being taken. “(We’re missing) gas for vehicles, diesel gas for generators, diesel gas for all the trucks and front loaders needed to clear the rubble.”
The woman, who didn’t give her name before being rushed away by officials, said she was flying with her children back to the US to stay with her sister while her husband looked after their house in St. Martin. “The biggest problem right now is the lack of communications. People just don’t know what’s happening,” she said. “I’ve never experienced a hurricane before in my life … I can’t even come up with the right words to explain the emotion, the anxiety, just not knowing, the fear,” she said. Her husband Dominique Vilier told CNN there had been looting and robbing in the wake of the hurricane, which has left them without food and water.
“It’s very terrible right now … I actually had two persons try to break into my house at night the day before yesterday and I had to scare them off,” he said. As Macron heads to St. Martin, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb announced France was currently working on delivering water to affected neighborhoods across the island. He added food supplies were also being provided by 1,500 helpers on the ground in the West Indies, which will increase to 2,000 over the coming days. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday 700 troops and 50 police had been deployed to parts of the Caribbean, while the HMS Ocean would soon head to the region loaded with emergency supplies. “We are continuing to deliver aid, including food and water, to where it is needed … (Some) aid has arrived in the region with much more on the way,” he said in a statement.