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WEATHER

Hundreds of Hurricane Irma survivors arrive in France, Netherlands

About 400 exhausted and traumatised survivors of Hurricane Irma, which pummelled Caribbean islands last week, arrived in France and the Netherlands on Monday aboard military planes.

Hundreds of Hurricane Irma survivors arrive in France, Netherlands
Man kisses his wife holding their baby as they board a plane at Grand-Case Esperance airport to leave Saint Martin. AFP.
A plane with 278 aboard landed in Paris, while another 100 people flew into Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands.
   
Both the French and Dutch governments have come under criticism over delays in their responses to the crisis and in particular over how they handled outbreaks of looting on St Barthelemy and St Martin, an island with both French and Dutch sectors.
 
French President Emmanuel Macron is in the Caribbean on Tuesday, visiting the French islands hit by Hurricane Irma.   
 
“They gave us phone numbers but they didn't work. Only social media and solidarity worked,” said a mother picking up her daughter at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport.
 
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Hotel Mercure on Saint Martin during the passage of Hurricane Irma. AFP.

“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.”
 
Arriving in Eindhoven, 30-year-old Clara James said the Dutch side of St Martin “literally looks like a war zone.”
   
“And at sunset, at nightfall, the looting starts. Because they have nothing left, their houses have been destroyed… I can't describe it,” said James, a Rotterdam resident who was returning from St Martin, where she visiting her ailing father when the hurricane struck.
   
The Dutch government has particularly been faulted for delays in organising rescue flights to bring home tourists left stranded when the storm hit the Caribbean on Wednesday.
   
“They reacted far too late,” said Kitty Algra, who was among the first group of 55 Dutch tourists evacuated on a military flight from St Martin to the nearby island of Curacao to await a flight home.
   
Algra told the Dutch newspaper AD of a chaotic situation after Irma devastated the island, destroying about 60 percent of homes.
 
“Immediately after the storm, people were walking around with baseball bats,” she said. “That was more disappointing than the hurricane.”
 
'Lost everything'
 
In France, opposition firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon has demanded a parliamentary inquiry into whether enough security forces have been sent to restore order on St Martin after looting broke out after the storm.
   
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe angrily accused politicians of trying to capitalise on the hurricane, calling for “solidarity with our citizens, many of whom have lost everything”.
   
Britain, too, has faced criticism that it has been slow to help its citizens caught up in the disaster  — including in the British Virgin Islands, where five people were killed.
   
But Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the criticism “completely unjustified”.
   
Britain has pledged £32 million (35 million euros, $42 million) in aid and sent hundreds of troops, supplies and rescue equipment on several flights to the British territories in the Caribbean since Friday.

WEATHER

South west France on red alert for flooding

Five areas in south west France have been placed on a red weather alert for flooding as storms lash the region.

South west France on red alert for flooding
Storms are moving in to south west France over the Pyrenees. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

Météo France has placed five départements in south west France – Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes, Hautes-Pyrénées, Haute-Garonne and Ariège – on a red weather alert for heavy rains and flooding.

Extremely heavy rainstorms have hit the area, with a band of storm clouds travelling along the Pyrenees, bringing the risk of avalanches in the mountains and flooding in lowland areas.

The neighbouring département of Pyrénées-Orientale is on orange alert, along with the principality of Andorra. In the north, Aisne is also on orange alert for heavy rain.

Heavy rain is expected to continue throughout Monday, gradually easing off towards the evening, although the flood alerts remain in place until Tuesday. 

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