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WEATHER

IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irma leaves trail of destruction in French Caribbean

Hurricane Irma - one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record - ripped through the Caribbean on Wednesday leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irma leaves trail of destruction in French Caribbean
Damage in Orient Bay. AFP.
Nine were killed by the storm on the French islands, while seven remain missing, France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on Friday. 
 
The islands of St Martin, a pristine island resort which is divided between France and the Netherlands, and St Barts, also known as Saint Barthelemy, were hit. 

 
A 455-strong security contingent is on its way to St Martin and more will follow, Collomb said, adding that “the law and order problems should be resolved”.
 
The rare Category Five hurricane is now heading towards the United States, where up to a million people have been ordered to evacuate. 
 

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Hotel Mercure on Saint Martin during the passage of Hurricane Irma. AFP.

Destroyed palm trees, outside Hotel Mercure after the storm. AFP

A man stands in his destroyed home in Orient Bay on Saint-Martin. AFP

Damage in Orient Bay. AFP

French Overseas Minister Annick Girardin (C) and President of the Saint-Martin French collectivity Daniel Gibbes (R) speak with residents. AFP.

Flooded houses in Gustavia in St Barts. AFP.

CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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