MARIGOT, St Martin (AP) – Wrapping up a sweeping visit to the destroyed island of St Martin, France’s president responded to anger that his government didn’t do enough to handle Hurricane Irma’s wrath and promised to evacuate residents of his country’s Caribbean territories and provide services and shelter for those who choose to stay.
French President Emmanuel Macron outlined a plan to distribute drinking water, food and medical help using the islands’ radio stations and even megaphones, if necessary.
He also said about half of the island’s mobile connectivity had been restored and all “essential communication” would be back by next week.
“What we have seen today are people determined to rebuild and return to a normal life,” he said Tuesday in a press conference.
“They are impatient for answers and some are very, very angry. The anger is legitimate because it is a result of the fear they have faced and of being very fatigued. It is certain that some want to leave, and we will help them in that effort.”
He said France was bringing in air-conditioned tents so children can start classes again soon, and he said a centre would be established by Monday to begin processing requests for financial help.
Macron pledged to rebuild St Martin as a “model” for withstanding future storms.
“I don’t want to rebuild St Martin as it was,” he said.
“We have seen there are many homes that were built too precariously, with fragile infrastructure. The geography of the homes was not adapted to the risks.”
Macron said the Category 5 hurricane killed 11 people in St Martin, while another four people died on the Dutch side of the island, bringing the death toll in the Caribbean to at least 37.
The visit came as residents tried to revive a sense of normalcy with small gestures like sharing radios and rescuing dogs.
The Dutch Red Cross said more than 200 people were still listed as missing on St Maarten, but with communications extremely spotty a week after the storm hit, it wasn’t clear how many were simply without cell service and power and unable to let friends and family know they survived.
The organisation said 90 per cent of buildings on the Dutch territory were damaged and a third destroyed as Irma roared across the island it shares with French St Martin.
Yogesh Bodha, a jewellery store employee, said there was no response from European officials for two days and he hasn’t seen many changes since Dutch authorities arrived on St Maarten.