French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the Caribbean on Tuesday promising to rebuild the French territories ravaged by Hurricane Irma.
Speaking on the tarmac of the airport at Pointe a Pitre in Guadeloupe, one of France’s overseas territories, Macron defended criticism that France was not prepared to deal with the situation, CNN reported.
Macron pointed out that at the last minute the Category 3 storm they were expecting to land on Guadeloupe turned into a Category 5 and rammed St. Martin instead, 260 kilometres away.
The French President plans to visit that beleaguered island later in the day. “I am here to talk about reconstruction,” he said.
“When such a thing happens, life is never the same again. I want to rebuild not just a new life but also a better life.”
Macron said 11 people were killed in the French territories of St. Barts and St. Martin. That brings the death toll of Irma in the Leeward Islands and Cuba to at least 38.
He said France had set up the biggest airlift to mainland France since the Second World War, with 2,000 people having left for the country or another French territory, the report said.
Macron said that water and electricity would be back soon in France’s Caribbean territories, and that he hoped schools would be reopened next week.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb announced that France was currently working on delivering water to affected neighbourhoods across the island.
Macron said he plans to go on a patrol with French security forces to see for himself that law and order have been restored following reports of widespread looting.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was expected to arrive in the UK overseas territory of Anguilla on Tuesday to offer his support to islanders there, Barbuda and the British Virgin islands, all of which suffered major devastation in the storm.
Speaking in the British Parliament, Alan Duncan, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said more than half a million British nationals — both residents and visitors — were caught up in Irma.
He said London was working with US, German and Dutch authorities to organise the potential departure of the most vulnerable on Tuesday.
Johnson said that 700 troops and 50 police had been deployed to parts of the Caribbean, while the HMS Ocean would soon head to the region loaded with emergency supplies.
UK billionaire Richard Branson, who rode out the storm in his home in the British Virgin Islands is also rallying relief.
The European Union has also committed to providing $2.4 million for emergency relief.