Update: Nine dead, seven missing on French Caribbean islands in wake of Hurricane Irma

The hurricane killed nine, while seven are still missing in the French Caribbean islands, France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said.

Update: Nine dead, seven missing on French Caribbean islands in wake of Hurricane Irma
Saint Martin after the storm. AFP.
In addition to those killed and missing, 112 were left injured, and 60 percent of homes on the island were damaged so badly that they were uninhabitable. 
Collomb issued the update following conflicting figures given by the French government on Thursday about the loss of life caused by the storm. Earlier estimates had put the toll at between four and eight deaths.
St Martin, a pristine island resort which is divided between France and the Netherlands, suffered the full fury of Hurricane Irma, which ripped through parts of the Caribbean on Wednesday, with some 95 percent of homes destroyed on the French side of the island.
St Barts, also known as Saint Barthelemy, was also hit by the hurricane. 
Damage caused by Hurricane Irma on French islands in the Caribbean is estimated to be “much higher” than 200 million euros ($240 million), a state insurance group said on Friday.
Bertrand Labilloy, head of the Caisse Centrale de Reassurance (CCR) which specialises in natural disasters, said hurricanes typically caused around 100-200 million euros worth of damage on the French islands.
The islands of Saint Martin (1) and St Barts (2) in the French Caribbean. Google Maps.
France on Thursday flew in water, emergency rations and rescue teams to stricken French territories in the Caribbean hit by Hurricane Irma where at least eight people have been killed and another 21 wounded.
A day after the Category Five hurricane smashed its way across St Martin and the nearby French-run island of St Barthelemy, French and Dutch officials scrambled to activate a rescue plan to help their citizens.
A 200-strong French delegation of troops, rescuers, soldiers and medics flew to the larger French island of Guadeloupe where rescue efforts are being coordinated for surrounding territories.
Collomb said that the airport on the French side of St Martin had “not been hit so much,” allowing helicopters and eventually other aircraft to fly in 100,000 emergency rations, fresh water and equipment.
Damages on the French overseas island of Saint-Martin, after high winds from Hurricane Irma hit the island. AFP PHOTO / RINSY XIENG / RCI.FM    
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Dutch side of the island was “not reachable at this point because of the huge damage to the airport and the harbour.”

“The situation in St Martin and St Barts is dramatic — there is no drinking water, electricity, public buildings are unusable, houses have been destroyed. We estimate that some 60, 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed in St Martin,” Guadeloupe prefect Eric Maire said Wednesday.
One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, the dangerous Category Five hurricane was churning off the north coast of Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, on a potential collision course with south Florida where at-risk areas were evacuated.
A picture released on the Facebook account of Kevin Barrallon shows flooded houses on the French overseas collectivity of St Barts, to the south east of St Martin. AFP   
The French part of St Martin — a pristine resort known for its vibrant nightlife — suffered the storm's full fury and 95 percent of dwellings were decimated, officials said.
“It's an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed,” top local official Daniel Gibbs said in a radio interview. “I'm in shock. It's frightening.”
French President Emmanuel Macron earlier warned the final toll would be “harsh and cruel.”
To the southeast, Barbuda, part of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, suffered “absolute devastation” with 95 percent of properties damaged, and up to 30 percent demolished, according to Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
“Barbuda now is literally rubble,” Browne said. One person is known to have died on the island of 1,600 residents, apparently a child whose family was trying to get to safer ground.
A flooded street on the French overseas island of Saint-Martin. AFP PHOTO / RCI .FM / RINSY XIENG
Hurricane Irma, rampaging across the Caribbean, has produced sustained winds at 295 kilometres per hour (183 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France's weather service said Thursday.
“Such an intensity, for such a long period, has never been observed in the satellite era,” which began in the early 1970s, said Etienne Kapikian, a forecaster at Meteo France.
“And it is continuing,” he told AFP, adding that Irma would probably remain a Category 5-storm at least until it hits the Bahamas.


‘Returning life to normal is the absolute priority’: Macron visits Caribbean in wake of Hurricane Irma

French President Emmanuel Macron travelled Tuesday to the hurricane-hit Caribbean, rebuffing criticism over the relief efforts as European countries boost aid to their devastated island territories.

'Returning life to normal is the absolute priority': Macron visits Caribbean in wake of Hurricane Irma
Macron's plane touched down in Saint Martin as anger grew over looting and lawlessness in the French-Dutch territory after Hurricane Irma.
Speaking in Guadeloupe earlier, Macron said the government began preparing “one of the biggest airlifts since World War II” days before Irma hit on Wednesday.
“Now is not the time for controversy,” he said, adding: “Returning life to normal is the absolute priority.”
The French, British and Dutch governments have faced criticism for failing to anticipate the disaster, with an editorial in The Telegraph newspaper calling the response “appallingly slow.”
Touring Saint Martin, Macron was at times jeered by people waiting for aid supplies or hoping to catch flights for France in order to escape the devastation across the island.
“We've been here since six in the morning and we're still waiting, under a blazing sun,” said one woman in a crowd of people hoping to leave as soon as possible.
Another woman asked: “Why are you here?”
But Macron said that “everybody who wants to leave will be able to,” with officials saying that about 2,000 of the 35,000 residents on the French side of Saint Martin had already left in recent days.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrived Tuesday in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, where he met with some of the nearly 1,000 military personnel sent to bolster relief efforts and security.
He was also expected to visit the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.
“The UK is going to be with you for the long term,” Johnson had told residents in a video message.
He has dismissed the criticism as “completely unjustified,” calling the relief effort “unprecedented.”
A mother picking up her daughter, a survivor who flew to Paris on Monday, said government help was non-existent on Saint Martin.
“They gave us phone numbers but they didn't work. Only social media and solidarity worked,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“People were left to their own devices. They had to set up militias and take turns defending themselves” against looters, she said.
“All the gangs came to the French side… with guns and machetes. It's unbelievably chaotic.”
Macron, who is due to visit Saint Barthelemy Wednesday, said he wanted to “disarm” St. Martin.
“There is an endemic problem on the island, that preexisted this crisis, which is weapons,” he said. “It's a challenge we must face.”
'Expensive legacy of empire'
The British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean are highly dependent on aid, making them what The Times called “an expensive legacy of empire.”
In France, opposition figures have accused Macron's fledgling government of bungling the response to the disaster.
Radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon has called for a parliamentary inquiry and far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the government had left islanders to “fend for themselves.”
There has also been criticism of the Dutch response.
“They reacted far too late. The French were much quicker on Saint Martin to evacuate people,” tourist Kitty Algra told Dutch newspaper AD.