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Macron Visits French Caribbean Islands Damaged by Irma

VOA - Wednesday 13th September, 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting French Caribbean islands that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Macron arrived Tuesday in Guadeloupe on a plane that brought water, food, medicine and emergency equipment. Macron met with local officials and emergency personnel at a Guadeloupe airport, where he promised more supplies and security forces for the islands, including nearby St. Martin and St. Barts islands, the hardest-hit by the storm.

After leaving Guadeloupe, Macron will visit St. Martin and St. Barts for meetings with residents.

Macron's Tuesday trip to St. Martin comes one day after King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands visited the Dutch side of the island, St. Maarten. Irma killed four people on St. Martin/St. Maarten and caused widespread damage.

Juan Antonio Higuey shows his destroyed home at Cold Bay community after the passage of Hurricane Irma, in St. Martin, Sept. 11, 2017.

There were reports of food, fuel and water shortages, as well as crime, on St. Martin days after the storm.

Evacuees who arrived in the United States recounted the storm and the devastating effects it had on St. Martin/St. Maarten.

'The hurricane came into the apartment,' said Justin Cummings, a Rye, New York resident who was on a three-month teaching assignment to St. Maarten. Cummings and 11 others sought shelter in his supervisor's apartment in Cole Bay.

'The hurricane shutters got ripped off like pieces of paper, like literally a thin piece of paper,' Cummings told VOA. 'And then a wall on the building got ripped off. All the windows got blown out by the frames, not even by the glass, but the frames got completely ripped out.'

As they ran into a cement-fortified bedroom closet, Cummings said, 'It looked like a tornado in the apartment. Debris flying around, everything gone.'

After some 10 hours in the closet, about 45 minutes of calm set in with the arrival of the eye of the storm. During that period, Cummings and the others emerged from the closet and saw even more damage Irma had inflicted.

'It looked like a nuclear bomb blew up everything on the island. The apartment was just completely destroyed. We walked to the balcony, looked down at the beach, all the palm trees were ripped out. Everything was gone basically. It was like a nuclear bomb, it looked like nuclear war, basically. It looked like the apocalypse.'

Sept. 11, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in the Cole Bay community of St. Martin.

Although St. Martin/St. Maarten was under martial law, Cummings said he managed to get to the airport, where Dutch marines hurried him onto a special flight that was evacuating primarily sick and disabled people to Puerto Rico.

St. Martin/St. Maarten was one of several places that were devastated by Irma. The nearby islands of Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands were also heavily damaged.

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