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Caribbean faces long road to recover from Irma

People walk through flooded streets in Havana after the passage of Hurricane Irma, in Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. The powerful storm ripped roofs off houses, collapsed buildings and flooded hundreds of miles of coastline after cutting a trail of destruction across the Caribbean. Cuban officials warned residents to watch for even more flooding over the next few days.
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Caribbean nationals are facing a very long and hard road to recover from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma.

Reports indicate that Irma, a Category 5 storm, Irma killed at least 24 people across the region — estimates range from 24 to 28 dead — devastated housing, power supplies and communications, leaving some small islands almost cut off from the world.

European nations sent military reinforcements to keep order amid looting, while the damage was expected to total billions of dollars, according to the British Independent.

It said ex-patriot billionaires and poor islanders alike were forced to take cover as Irma tore roofs off buildings, flipped cars and killed livestock, raging from the Leeward Islands across Puerto Rico and Hispaniola then into Cuba.

US President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, where Irma killed at least three people and left hundreds of thousands without electricity.

Trump also expanded US federal funds available to the US Virgin Islands, which suffered extensive damage to homes and infrastructure, the Independent said.

It said, further east in the Caribbean, battered islands, such as St. Martin and Barbuda, were taking stock of the damage as people began emerging from shelters to scenes of devastation.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the death toll on the Dutch part of St. Martin had risen to four from two, and that 70 percent of homes had been damaged or destroyed, according to the Independent.

Following reports of looting, the Independent said the Netherlands would increase its military presence to 550 soldiers on the island by Monday.

Dutch authorities are evacuating other tourists and injured people to Curacao, where Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk were expected to arrive, the Independent said.

It said France, which oversees neighboring Saint Barthelemy and other half of St Martin, said the police presence on the two islands had been boosted to close to 500.

The French interior ministry said 11 people suspected of “malicious actions” had been arrested since Friday as television footage showed scenes of chaos on the islands, with streets under water, boats and cars tossed into piles and torn rooftops, the Independent said.

Irma killed at least 10 people on the two islands, the French government said. French President Emmanuel Macron was due to visit St. Martin on Tuesday, the Independent said.

Barbuda, home to some 1,800 inhabitants, faces a reconstruction bill that could total hundreds of millions of dollars, state officials said, after Irma steamrolled the island.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said Irma had wreaked “absolute devastation” on Barbuda, which he described as “barely habitable” after 90 percent of cars and buildings had been damaged, according to the Independent.

Irma also plunged the British Virgin Islands, an offshore business and legal center, into turmoil.

Yachts were piled on top of each other in harbor, and many houses in the hillside capital of Road Town on the main island of Tortola were badly damaged.

Both there and in Anguilla to the east, residents complained help from the British government was too slow in coming, prompting a defensive response from London, according to the Independent.

“We weren’t late,” Defense Minister Michael Fallon told BBC television on Sunday, saying Britain had “pre-positioned” an aid ship for the Caribbean hurricane season and that his government’s response “has been as good as anybody else’s.”

British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, who sought refuge in the wine cellar of his home on Necker island, called Irma the “storm of the century” on Twitter and urged people to make donations to help rebuild the region.

With ports mended and weather cleared, officials sent in more aid and arranged stepped-up evacuations Monday in remote Caribbean islands devastated and cut off by Hurricane Irma, ABC News said.

It said a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship was expected to dock near St. Martin to help in the aftermath, and a boat was bringing a 5-ton crane capable of unloading large shipping containers filled with aid.

A French military ship was scheduled to arrive Tuesday with materials to build temporary housing, ABC News said.

It said some 70 percent of the beds at the main hospital in the French portion of St. Martin were severely damaged, and more than 100 people in need of urgent medical care have been evacuated.

Eight of the territory’s 11 pharmacies were destroyed, and Guadeloupe was sending medication, ABC News said.

Since Friday, Britain has also sent two transport planes carrying almost 20 tons of emergency supplies to its Caribbean territories, as well as 250 marines and two extra military helicopters, reported the New York Times.

It said Britain’s largest warship will arrive in the Caribbean in around 10 days, carrying eight more helicopters.

Updated 12:01 pm, September 21, 2017
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