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St Martin, St Barts contemplate rebuilding in Irma's wake
by Staff Writers
Marigot (AFP) Sept 10, 2017

Hurricane floods leave Cubans waist-deep in water
Havana (AFP) Sept 10, 2017 - Residents of Cuba's historic capital Havana were waist-deep in floodwaters Sunday after Hurricane Irma swept by, cutting off power and forcing the evacuation of more than a million people.

Wild waves were crashing over the seafront of the old colonial city after Irma ravaged Cuba's northern coast on its way to Florida.

"This is catastrophic, because a lot of the buildings here are not prepared for a downpour like this," said Yanmara Suarez, standing in the street in a yellow t-shirt with water up to her ankles.

In other streets near the seafront, the water reached up to people's waists and flooded their homes, leaving timber floating in the streets.

"In all the 49 years I have lived here, this is the first time this has happened," said Ernesto Loza, sitting on his doorstep that was fortunately raised just above water.

"The sea has always risen a bit, but never this much."

- 'Highest sea surge ever' -

Authorities said the winds reached up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour in Havana, with unprecedented storm waves from the sea.

Havana national defense official Mercedes Lopez said on television that "the sea rose higher than it ever had before."

Most of the capital was without power early Sunday. Water supplies and telephone lines were also down.

Lopez added that some houses had completely collapsed in and around Havana.

In some places, the sea water reached more than 500 meters (1,650 feet) into the city.

Some people plunged into the water to try to catch the attention of police and rescuers patrolling the city.

Authorities said Havana would continue to feel the effects of the storm until Monday.

- Hotels evacuated -

Irma hit battered central Cuba on Saturday, knocking down power lines, uprooting trees and ripping off roofs.

The storm "seriously" damaged the center of the island with winds up to 256 kilometers per hour, according to Cuban state media.

Authorities said they had evacuated more than a million people overall as a precaution.

That included about 4,000 from low-lying districts and tourist hotels around the capital.

Some residents compared the impact of Irma to that of two other memorable hurricanes that hit Cuba: Wilma in 2005 and Kate in 1985.

There were no confirmed casualties in Cuba from Irma. But the hurricane killed at least 25 people earlier on its path across the Caribbean.

People on the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barts on Sunday contemplated the task of rebuilding their lives after Hurricane Irma destroyed homes and roads and knocked out power and water.

The monster storm ripped through the two islands, leaving most of the 80,000 inhabitants homeless and causing crippling shortages of essentials.

"Is there still a life here?" wondered Michelene Jean-Charles, a heavily pregnant 23-year-old resident of St Martin, which is divided between France and the Netherlands.

Some 70 percent of the infrastructure on the Dutch side, which is known as Sint Maarten, has been destroyed, officials say.

Four people are now known to have died on Sint Maarten, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Sunday, raising the death toll there from two.

France said 10 people died on its side of the island.

But he added there had been "no new damage" caused by Hurricane Jose, which skirted the islands far to the north late Saturday.

The new deaths reported on Sint Maarten bring Irma's confirmed death toll in the Caribbean to 27.

Three people were killed Sunday in Florida in a road accident reportedly caused by the inclement weather as Irma struck the US state.

French President Emmanuel Macron will leave for St Martin late Monday to meet victims and confer with local officials, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.

"He will be there on Tuesday morning," Collomb said after meeting Macron at the Elysee presidential palace.

Opposition figures have accused Macron's fledgling government of bungling the response to the disaster, with radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon calling for a parliamentary inquiry.

Both France and the Netherlands are rushing in logistical support, as well as hundreds of extra police to tackle looting.

According to several unconfirmed reports, one or more boats from St Martin were intercepted trying to dock near luxury stores on St Barts, apparently with looting them in mind.

French aid includes helicopters, engineering equipment, medical supplies and a million litres (250,000 gallons) of water, as the three water-treatment plants will be knocked out for months.

The French energy group EDF said it would send 140 tonnes of electrical equipment including generators and pumps from nearby Guadeloupe as soon as conditions permit.

An emergency radio station began broadcasting practical information, news and music on St Martin, while St Barts' transmitter remained out of order.

As for the Dutch side, the Dutch Red Cross described it as a "race against time to get the relief to the affected area."

"Water pipes do not work, the stores are empty and there is no electricity in much of (Sint Maarten)," a spokesman told the Dutch news agency ANP.

The military were to evacuate Dutch tourists to Curacao, another Dutch island off of Venezuela, using two Hercules C-130 transporter planes, and the navy said it would begin large-scale distribution of food and water on Monday.

- Jose skirts islands -

Despite Irma's destruction, many islanders counted their blessings as Hurricane Jose, which followed on the super-storm's heels, spared them further disaster.

"I'm relieved, almost happy," said St Martin resident Donald Tchuisseu, a plastic glass of gin in hand after toasting Jose's mercy with a friend.

"It's good to have a drink, laugh and think about other things," Tchuisseu said. "The alternative is to stay home alone without power or water."

Jose passed 135 km (80 miles) north of St Barts, a haven for the rich and famous formally called St Barthelemy with a population of some 9,500.

The new hurricane was 125 km from St Martin, known for its vibrant nightlife and pristine beaches.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander arrived Sunday on the Caribbean island of Curacao with Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk to view first-hand the aid and rescue operation for nearby Sint Maarten, ANP said.

- Trauma -

Mental health experts point to long-term emotional scars from Irma.

"Not everyone will have been totally traumatised by the disaster, but a certain number of people will," said clinical psychologist Michele Vitry, speaking to AFP in Paris.

"The risk is worse when people have also lost everything -- their homes, businesses, work."



Florida insurers could be blown away by Hurricane Irma: expert
Washington (AFP) Sept 9, 2017
Florida insurance companies have not been tested to see if they can withstand a historic storm like Hurricane Irma, and an industry expert warned that "all bets are off" if the damage is as catastrophic as predicted. The ferocious storm was expected to slam into Florida overnight Saturday, and had been upgraded to a maximum-strength Category Five storm went it struck Cuba late Friday. Ir ... read more

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