Caribbean begins rebuilding from Irma after leaders tour islands

By Ed Adamczyk Contact the Author   |  Sept. 15, 2017 at 1:35 PM
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Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma are in for a long recovery, their disaster management chief said.

"The signs of hope are certainly very evident in many of our member states. We're going to be looking at more people needing to be assisted over a longer period of time," Ronald Jackson, head of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday after visiting several British territories.

Jackson said the island of Barbuda was "99 percent" destroyed by the hurricane.

"The rebuilding of Barbuda is going to take some time."

The total death toll from Irma has reached 61, with 38 deaths occurring in the Caribbean and 23 in the United States.

The islands of the Caribbean include independent nations, as well as territories owned by the United States, Britain, France and the Netherlands. Each territory received visitors from their home country leaders this week.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Barbados, where he promised to get the island "back on its feet again." He also traveled to the heavily-damaged British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. Johnson mentioned that Britain had sent over 700 military personnel and over 50 police officers to help in rescue and recovery efforts.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in Guadalupe, said $59 million would be dedicated to the recovery and 2,000 security forces deployed. He later went to St. Martin, a hard-hit island shared with the Netherlands, where 11 people died on the French side and four on the Dutch side.

"St. Martin will be reborn, I promise," Macron said. "I will shake up all the rules and procedures so the job is done as quickly as possible. It will be done quickly, it will be done well, and it will be done better."

The French government said it would take at least three months to fully return water and electricity to the island.

The U.S. Virgin Islands could take years to recover, officials said this week -- and it may take "months, months, months" before even power is restored. Food and water is also scarce and buildings have been heavily destroyed, especially in the hardest-hit St. John island.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited St. Maarten and said, "I've never experienced anything like this before and I've seen a lot of natural disasters in my life. I've seen a lot of war zones in my life, but I've never seen anything like this."

All three European governments have faced some criticism for a slow response and for failing to anticipate the damage.

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