European leaders take food, water, supplies to devastated island
PHILIPSBURG, ST. MAARTEN — France’s president and the Dutch king visited Caribbean territories on Tuesday that were hammered by Hurricane Irma, bringing in much-needed food, water and medical supplies amid accusations that European governments had been unprepared, slow to react and sometimes even racist in their responses to the devastation.
The visit came as residents tried to revive a sense of normalcy amid the chaos and destruction wrought by the Category 5 hurricane 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 had survived. The organization said 90 percent 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 37-yearold jewelry store employee, said there was no response from European officials for two days, and that he hasn’t seen many changes since Dutch authorities arrived on St. Maarten.
“They should’ve been more organized than they were,” he said. “We have not received any food or water. They say it’s on its way. Let’s see.”
For Liseth Echevarría, who works as a bartender in St. Maarten, offering whatever she could to family, strangers and abandoned pets was helping her cope — and those around her were doing the same.
The manager of a marina next door threw over a hose so that Echevarría and her husband could have a semblance of an outdoor shower. He also offered them a temporary power connection from his generator so they could charge phones and listen to the sole radio station still broadcasting.
“This is the only communication that St. Maarten has with the world right now,” the 27-year-old said.
It was thanks to that radio station that she found out about a flight for all Latin Americans stuck in St. Maarten. She rushed to the airport with her brother, who was evacuating back to Colombia. As she dropped him off, Echevarría saw a Yorkshire terrier tied to a metal barricade, abandoned by a passenger fleeing the island and told they couldn’t bring pets on the plane.
Debris and wreckage litter the streets of Saint Martin on Sunday after the passing of Hurricane Irma. Some residents complained European governments were unprepared and slow to react to the storm.