Most of the French part of eastern Caribbean Island St. Martin has been destroyed, the president of the territory’s assembly Daniel Gibbs said on Wednesday.
“This is an enormous catastrophe; 95 percent of the island is destroyed,” he told Radio Caraïbes International via cellphone. “I am under shock. It is frightening.”
There are at least eight dead and 21 injured on the French side of St. Martin, confirmed Eric Maire, governor of Guadeloupe, another French territory that is farther south and was not affected by Irma. But, speaking to journalists in Guadeloupe, he warned this was not a “definitive” figure: “Far from it.”
While he estimated that “perhaps 60 to 70 percent” of residential properties on St. Martin were destroyed, Mr. Gibbs, who is on the island, was more pessimistic.
“If another hurricane hits us on Saturday, it is not the number of deaths we will count but that of the living,” he said.
The island needs emergency assistance, Mr. Gibbs added. “I have sick people to evacuate, I have a population to evacuate because I don’t know where I can shelter them,” he said.
Hurricane Jose, currently in the Atlantic, is following Irma’s path. Although earlier predictions expected the storm to veer north, the latest computer models are making it more likely that Hurricane Jose will affect the Leeward Islands this weekend.
After initial estimates of two fatalities, French President Emmanuel Macron had warned that the public needed to be prepared for a “more cruel” tally and extensive damage to the territory.
Speaking to reporters in Paris, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the airport on the French side of the island had “not been hit as much,” allowing helicopters and eventually other aircraft to fly in emergency rations, fresh water and equipment.
But rescue efforts were made more difficult due to the damage to police and fire service vehicles. “The destruction is massive,” he said.
Before Hurricane Irma crossed St. Martin and St. Barths, Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin on French radio Franceinfo criticized “the inappropriate behavior of individuals” who “were still out in the open” or had refused to seek shelter either at home or, if their residence was not sturdy enough, in public shelters like schools.
St. Martin has a population of 78,000, with about 41,000 living on the southern, Dutch side of the island.
On the Dutch side, St. Maarten, Hurricane Irma has caused “enormous devastation,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Following crisis talks with his Cabinet, Rutte confirmed “there is no power” and the island’s “infrastructure is badly damaged.”
There were no reported fatalities, but communications with the islands were still difficult and conducted mainly through military channels.
Many people are wandering around aimlessly, as they have no homes anymore and do not know what to do, Paul de Windt, editor of St. Maarten’s The Daily Herald, said in a telephone interview with Curacao’s Paradise FM radio station. “It was far worse than expected. People are walking on the streets in the rain. Many are confused.”
The ferocity of the storm is difficult to describe, he said, as even solid buildings were blown away.
The Dutch Navy has positioned two ships, the Zeeland and the Pelikaan, in the region and a video filmed from one of its helicopters captured widespread destruction of the island.
It showed shipping containers in the port strewn like broken Lego pieces, roof damage to most residential and commercial buildings, sail boats either overturned, submerged or with snapped masts, and debris scattered in roads and public spaces.
The island’s Juliana Airport, famous for the images of tourists lying on Mayo Beach with planes landing just yards behind them, is damaged. Although the runway has been cleared, the Dutch Navy said it is still unreachable.
“Alas, the island is not reachable at this point because of the huge damage to the airport and the harbor,” Prime Minister Rutte told reporters in the Netherlands.
He called on the Dutch public to donate to a special fund set up by the Dutch Red Cross.
The two Dutch Navy ships were expected to deliver aid to the island Thursday.
“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.