Thursday July 19th, 2018 9:52AM

French, British officials view Irma's damage, vow island aid

By The Associated Press
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MARIGOT, St. Martin (AP) — French and British officials promised to beef up emergency and long-term aid to their countries' stricken Caribbean territories after seeing firsthand the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Wednesday Britain must move quickly to help as Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament an extra 25 million pounds ($33 million) would be made available on top of the 32 million already pledged.

"This is going to be a big, big job," Johnson said as he made his way through the water-damaged rooms of a hospital on the island of Anguilla. He said Britain needs "to put the pedal to the metal" to get things back to normal.

French President Emmanuel Macron inspected the damage to St. Barts and met with local officials there on Wednesday after spending the night sleeping on a camp cot in neighboring St. Martin, which was hit particularly hard.

Chagrined leaders have rebuffed criticism that former colonial powers have not moved quickly enough to help citizens in their Caribbean territories after the hurricane left thousands of homes, businesses and public buildings in ruins.

Some of the tourism-dependent islands, after days without electricity and with food and water supplies, have drifted close to lawlessness.

The security situation in the British Virgin Islands was exacerbated by the escape of more than 100 inmates from a prison "breached" by Irma. Alarmed British authorities deemed the situation "very serious," but did not provide further details.

British troops and police are helping to keep order, with more on the way. Johnson planned to visit the British Virgin Islands later Wednesday.

Macron did not speak to the news media during his visit to St. Bart's. On Tuesday night, he promised to rebuild St. Martin as a "model island" that would be a "showcase of French excellence" and to take steps to diversify its economy so it's less reliant on tourism.

In further response to complaints that his government didn't do enough to handle Irma's wrath, Macron also pledged to evacuate residents of his country's Caribbean territories and provide services and shelter for those who choose to stay.

Johnson said it was not possible to be unaffected by the hardship he witnessed on Anguilla. He told Anguilla governor Tim Foy Tuesday night that his visit was meant to show the U.K.'s commitment.

"It is clear this place has been through an absolutely hellish experience," Johnson said.

He said 1,000 British troops are in place to help residents and several hundred more are on the way. Britain also has a ship in place to help bring in heavy equipment and the Royal Navy warship Ocean is on the way to the British Virgin Islands, though it won't arrive from Gibraltar for about 10 days.

The visits came as residents tried to revive a sense of normalcy with small gestures like sharing radios and rescuing dogs.

The Dutch navy is sending a huge cargo ship to the Caribbean loaded with supplies and aid for residents of the former Dutch colony of St. Maarten as they battle to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

The Dutch Red Cross said 90 percent of buildings on St. Maarten were damaged and a third destroyed as Irma roared across the island it shares with French St. Martin.

The Karel Doorman ship, currently on maneuvers in the Baltic Sea, will steam back to the port city of Den Helder to take on supplies and then head to St. Maarten, a trip of some two weeks, Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Ronald Plasterk said.

The Defense Ministry also is sending 100 more troops to the island to help with reconstruction. There are already some 500 Dutch service members helping to deliver emergency relief aid and maintain law and order.

Yogesh Bodha, a jewelry store employee, said there was no response from European officials for two days and he hasn't seen many changes since Dutch authorities arrived on St. Maarten.

"They should've been more organized than they were," he said. "We have not received any food or water. They say it's on its way. Let's see."


Coto reported from Philipsburg and Katz reported from London. AP writers Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.


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