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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.

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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