Paris (AFP) – 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.
A plane with 278 aboard landed in Paris, while another 100 people flew into Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands from the Guadeloupe capital Pointe-a-Pitre.
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.
“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.
“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…