Dutch prime minister says priority now to repair airport so aid can be dispatched to Caribbean island
Hurricane Irma has caused “huge damage” to St. Martin, devastating its airport and port and leaving the Dutch part of the Caribbean island unreachable, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Thursday.
“Alas, the island is not reachable at this point because of the huge damage to the airport and the harbor,” Rutte told reporters. He said there were no reports of deaths on the Dutch side so far, while no one had been killed on the Dutch islands of St. Eustatius and Saba as the powerful and rare Category Five storm roared through on Wednesday.
French authorities say at least eight lives have been lost on the French side of St. Martin.
Rutte said the priority now was to get the airport in the southern Dutch part of the island up and running again, to enable aid to be brought in.
After holding crisis talks with his top cabinet ministers, Rutte confirmed “there is no power” on St. Martin and the island’s “infrastructure is badly damaged.”
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told reporters the airport on the French side will be reopened, allowing helicopters and aircraft to supply aid. “The airport in the north has not been hit so much,” Collomb said.
Images shot by a Dutch naval helicopter over St. Martin revealed the extent of Irma’s trail of destruction. Huge containers normally stacked at a port had been tossed aside like matchsticks, roofs had been peeled off buildings, and debris was scattered everywhere.
Boats in a marina lay on their sides, half-submerged in water.
“The priority now is to bring emergency aid to the people… consisting of sending food and water to 40,000 people over the coming five days,” Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said. He said Royal Dutch Marine patrol ship Zeeland was in the area while support ship the Pelikaan is expected to arrive in the area at 1500 GMT. Both carry personnel and vehicles and have the capacity to make potable water.
The Netherlands is also sending a KDC-10 jet to the Caribbean as well as making a C-130 transporter available from the southern Caribbean island of Curacao, Plasterk said. “Our highest priority is to restore public amenities,” naval Lieutenant Egbert Stoel told Dutch television RTL from Curacao.
Rutte also called on Dutch citizens to donate to a special fund set up by the Dutch Red Cross. He warned there were renewed fears about oncoming Hurricane Jose, expected to make landfall in the area over the weekend.
Jose, classified as a Category One hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, is hurtling through the Caribbean and set to follow in Irma’s path.