MARIGOT, St Martin, Wednesday September 13, 2017 – Faced with a mammoth recovery process and a repair bill expected to reach the millions in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild St Martin as a “model island.”
“I don’t want to rebuild St Martin as it was,” he said. “We have seen there are many homes that were built too precariously, with fragile infrastructure. The geography of the homes was not adapted to the risks.”
Macron arrived in the French territory yesterday morning and immediately hit the ground to get a first-hand look at the impact of Irma’s wrath, against the backdrop of complaints that France had deserted its own.
“What we have seen today are people determined to rebuild and return to a normal life,” Macron said at a news conference.
“They are impatient for answers and some are very, very angry. The anger is legitimate, because it is a result of the fear they have faced and of being very fatigued. It is certain that some want to leave, and we will help them in that effort.”
Eleven people were killed in St Martin during the passage of the Category 5 hurricane and thousands have been displaced, as Irma demolished homes, buildings, and infrastructure.
Macron announced plans to evacuate residents across French territories that have been displaced but assured that those who chose to stay would be provided with services and shelter.
He revealed that France was bringing in air-conditioned tents so children could return to school, and said a centre would be established to begin processing requests for financial help.
The French leader also expressed concern about the housing stock and underscored that rebuilding would centre on ensuring that buildings there would be able to withstand storms.
Macron reportedly stayed overnight on St Martin and is expected to tour the island of St Barts today.
On the Dutch side of the island – St Maarten – four people were killed.
The Dutch Red Cross said more than 200 people were still listed as missing, but this was difficult to verify since communication on the island is virtually non-existent.
The humanitarian organization said 90 percent of buildings on the Dutch territory were damaged and a third destroyed as Irma roared across the island it shares with French St Martin.