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

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Update: Nine dead, seven missing on French Caribbean islands in wake of Hurricane Irma
Saint Martin after the storm. AFP.
16:43 CEST+02:00
The hurricane killed nine, while seven are still missing in the French Caribbean islands, France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb has said.
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.
 
Aid
 
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.
 
 
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