French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to quickly rebuild the islands of the French Caribbean during a visit meant to dispel anger at his government’s response to Hurricane Irma, which has killed at least 43 people in the region.
The clutch of Caribbean islands hardest hit by the storm were mainly overseas territories belonging to Britain, France and the Netherlands, whose tens of thousands of residents are European Union citizens. The US Virgin Islands were also hard hit.
Basic services in the region were lost after Irma, weakening law and order, and looting erupted on some islands. Haiti’s government said on Tuesday more than 10,000 people were in shelters after heavy rains flooded the former French colony.
Macron was due to travel on Tuesday to St Martin, an island France shares with the Netherlands that suffered some of the worst devastation from Irma. Most of the 10 people killed by Irma on St Martin lived on French territories there.
“St Martin will be reborn, I promise,” Macron told reporters in Pointe-a-Pitre, on the French island of Guadeloupe.
“I will shake up all the rules and procedures so the job is done as quickly as possible. It will be done quickly, it will be done well, and it will be done better,” he said.
Macron said 50 million euros will be made available as soon as possible, and 2,000 security forces have been deployed, including the army, roughly double the original contingent.
The French government said it would take at least three months for water distribution to normalise. The electricity supply has also been badly hit, authorities said.
“I am here to talk about reconstruction,” he said, according to CNN.
“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.”
The Netherlands, UK and US have also been criticised for the response to destruction on the Carribbean islands caused by the Category 5 hurricane.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited St Martin on Monday, and UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was reportedly due to visit Anguilla on Tuesday.
Alan Duncan, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said he was “dismayed by the sweeping criticism”, and noted the British territories were self-governing.
A naval vessel loaded with disaster relief supplies was deployed to the area in July. Another navy ship has been deployed and will be active next week. Electricity was restored at Anguilla hospital within days and almost 1,000 military personnel have been deployed to the Carribbean, Mr Duncan said.
He said more than 500,000 British nationals were affected by Irma.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne last week said about 95 per cent of buildings on Barbuda had been destroyed or damaged.