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Nearly a third of buildings on Dutch St Martin destroyed

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A house damaged by Hurricane Irma in Dutch Saint Martin. Reuters

AMSTERDAM (Agencies) – Nearly a third of all buildings on the Dutch half of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin were destroyed and more than 90 percent damaged by Hurricane Irma, the Dutch Red Cross said yesterday.

The aid agency had surveyed 5,500 structures before the storm and made an assessment based on photographs provided by the defence ministry in the Netherlands.

Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had said on Sunday an estimated 70 percent of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

“The damage on St Martin is greater than previously thought,” the Red Cross said in a statement. “In addition to distributing food and water, the Red Cross is going to ramp up emergency shelter.”

Extra search and rescue experts were also heading to the Dutch territory, where the Red Cross said 200 people were registered as missing.

A flight with tarpaulins, tents, soap and other supplies will leave today, after more than €3 million ($3.6 million) was donated in the Netherlands.

The Red Cross said it would use drones to monitor the needs of the population on the island, an independent nation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands with a population of around 40,000.

Irma killed four people and injured dozens on the Dutch side of the island. The remainder of the island is administered by France.

The French interior ministry has said Irma killed at least 10 people on the islands of St Martin and Saint Barthelemy. St Barthelemy lies about 35km southeast of St Martin.

French President Emmanuel Macron travelled yesterday to the Caribbean, joining the Dutch king in the region for a tour of the devastated islands.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander spent a night on the Dutch side of the divided island on Monday and is to travel on to other territories that bore the brunt of one of the most powerful storms on record.

“Even from the plane I saw something I have never seen before,” the Dutch royal told the NOS public newscaster. “I have seen proper war as well as natural disasters before, but I’ve never seen anything like this… Everywhere you look there’s devastation, you see the collapse.”

Meanwhile in the US, Florida began allowing some residents to return to their homes hammered by Irma yesterday, but officials warned that it would take a long time to repair the damage wrought by high winds and pounding surf, particularly in the Keys archipelago.

Irma, which had rampaged through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, was downgraded to a tropical depression on Monday. At its peak it prompted the evacuation of 6.5 million people, the largest evacuation in modern US history.

Local authorities told around 90,000 residents of Miami Beach and from some parts of the Florida Keys they could go home but warned it may be prudent not to remain there.

“This is going to be a frustrating event. It’s going to take some time to let people back into their homes particularly in the Florida Keys,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said.

He noted that Fema was continuing to rescue people stranded by flooding around Jacksonville,
in the state’s northeast.

The US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln arrived off Florida’s east coast and two amphibious assault ships were to arrive yesterday to help in the Keys. The military was to distribute food and help evacuate 10,000 residents who did not leave before the storm.

Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said  people had been killed in the Keys, but she did not have a count.“We are finding some remains,” she said to CNN.

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