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WEATHER

‘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
AFP
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?”
 
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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.

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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