Aid on way to Irma-battered islands as death toll rises
With ports mended and weather cleared, Caribbean officials struggled Monday to get aid to islands devastated by Hurricane Irma and tried to take stock of the damage caused by the Category 5 storm.
At least 34 people were reported to have been killed in the region, including 10 in Cuba, whose northern coast was raked by the storm. Cuban state media said most of those died in Havana, where seawater surged deep into residential neighbourhoods.
To the east, in the Leeward Islands known as the playground for the rich and famous, governments came under criticism for failing to respond quickly to the hurricane, which flattened many towns and turned lush, green hills to a brown stubble.
Residents have reported food, water and medicine shortages, as well as looting.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson defended his government’s response to what he called an “unprecedented catastrophe” and promised to increase funding for the relief effort. Britain sent a navy ship and almost 500 troops to the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos islands that were pummeled by the hurricane.
The U.S. government said it was sending a flight Monday to evacuate its citizens from St. Martin, one of the hardest-hit islands. Evacuees were warned to expect long lines and no running water at the airport.
A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship was expected to dock near
St. Martin to help in the aftermath, and a boat was bringing a five-ton crane capable of unloading large shipping containers of aid.
A French military ship was scheduled to arrive today with materials for temporary housing.
About 70 per cent of the beds at the main hospital in the French portion of St. Martin were severely damaged, and more than 100 people needing urgent medical care were evacuated. Eight of the territory’s 11 pharmacies were destroyed, and Guadeloupe was sending medication.
French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to arrive
in St. Martin today to bring aid and fend off criticism that he didn’t do enough to respond to the storm.
The “whole government is mobilized” to help, said Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
Soon after Irma killed 10 people on St. Martin, Category 4 Hurricane Jose threatened the area, halting evacuations for hours before heading out to sea and causing little additional damage.
Also hit hard was Cuba, where central Havana neighbourhoods along the coast between the Almendares River and the harbour suffered the worst flooding. Seawater penetrated as much as a
half-kilometre inland in some places.
Cuban state media reported 10 deaths despite the country’s usually rigorous disaster preparations. More than one million were evacuated from flood-prone areas.
Hector Pulpito recounted a harrowing experience at his job as night custodian of a parking lot that flooded five blocks from the sea in Havana’s Vedado neighbourhood.
“This was the worst of the storms I have been through, and the sea rose much higher,” Pulpito said. “The trees were shaking. Metal roofs went flying.”
Members of a rescue team navigate a flooded street Havana after the passage of Hurricane Irma in Cuba on Sunday. The powerful storm ripped roofs off houses, collapsed buildings and flooded hundreds of miles of coastline after cutting a trail of...