Hurricane Irma leaves Caribbean islands devastated

Relief efforts in the Caribbean islands hard hit by Hurricane Irma continued Saturday even as Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm, dumped more rain on the beleaguered region.

Several nations still possess a variety of Caribbean islands or maintain close ties with former colonies, and relief efforts were coming from all over, including France, the Netherlands and the United States.

The Franco-Dutch island of St. Martin suffered significant damage when Irma slammed into it Wednesday. An estimated 70% of the houses on the Dutch side of St. Martin were badly damaged or destroyed, Dutch officials reported Saturday. The French government said 95% of the French half of the island had been destroyed.

Irma inflicted similar damage on the island of Barbuda. Prime Minister Gaston Browne initially estimated that 95% of the properties on the island had been damaged or destroyed — then later said the losses were probably even worse. About 1,600 Barbuda residents were evacuated to Antigua.

French President Emmanuel Macron called an emergency meeting at the Elysée Palace on Saturday to set up urgent aid to the French side of St. Martin as well as the French Caribbean island of St. Barthelemy.

Four deaths were reported on the French side of St. Martin and two on the Dutch side, but the number of victims is expected to rise. On Saturday afternoon, President Trump telephoned Macron to express his condolences for the “devastation and human loss.”

More than 1,100 French emergency services — police, civil security, soldiers and health personnel — have been dispatched to St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, where an emergency electricity network has been set up to keep hospitals working.

Police forces have been kept busy trying to prevent the pillaging of shops and private properties. An overnight curfew was imposed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in anticipation of Jose, which was expected to pass north of the islands Saturday.

Around 3,000 packs of emergency military rations have been delivered. An additional 100,000 are being sent to the two islands.

Macron announced Wednesday a “national reconstruction plan” for France’s overseas territories. “An emergency fund will be set up,” he said. He told a news conference that it was too early to put an exact figure on the sum needed.

The Dutch military, meanwhile, dropped fliers on the island Saturday urging people to get to shelters as Jose approached, according to a tweet from a military commander.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said looting had broken out after the storm, but more than 200 Dutch troops and police are now patrolling the island to restore order. Rutte said told the Associated Press that the situation on the island remains "grim."

Dutch King Willem-Alexander will leave Sunday for another Caribbean island, Curacao, and will be briefed on relief operations around the region.

The Dutch Department of Defense tweeted videos of troops delivering water to the island of Saba on Saturday. A Dutch commander also shared video of dialysis patients being transported off the island.

Hurricane Irma also hit Cuba early Saturday.

Cuba's meteorological agency reported that Irma struck overnight north of central Camaguey province, home to the country’s third-largest city, with winds so strong they destroyed measurement instruments.

Hurricane-strength winds were later recorded in the northern half of Camaguey, the agency said. Irma was the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the province in 85 years, according to the state media. Damage was reported across the province: roofs torn off, trees downed and power disconnected. Personnel at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo rode out the storm instead of evacuating.

Puerto Rico dodged the brunt of Irma, but still sustained severe damage to its electrical grid.

More than 1 million people have lost power because of downed lines, and it is unclear how long it will be until power is restored to the whole island. Officials have said it could take weeks or months for the cash-strapped island to restore power.

Among those offering aid to the island was Connecticut, which has a large Puerto Rican population. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Saturday a C-130H cargo plane from the Connecticut National Guard would head to Puerto Rico to help with Hurricane Irma recovery. It was expected to arrive Saturday night.

"Connecticut knows all too well the damage that can result from severe storms, and we are grateful for all the help we received from others as we worked to recover from those storms," Malloy said in a statement. "The state of Connecticut stands ready to provide support across the nation in the ongoing response and recovery efforts as a result [of] the damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose.”

Puerto Rico has become a hub for relief efforts aiding other islands.

The Puerto Rican Air National Guard said in a statement that more than 1,000 American citizens were evacuated from St. Martin to Puerto Rico thanks to crews from the Puerto Rico, Kentucky and New York Air National Guards.

But by Saturday evening, forecasters had good news about Hurricane Jose. It appeared the northern Caribbean would avoid a direct hit from Jose, a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds that is forecasted to move farther northwest and weaken Sunday.

The government of Antigua called off a tropical storm warning for the sister islands of Antigua and Barbuda. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.

Swells generated by Jose will begin to hit Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Turks and Caicos Islands and portions of the Bahamas over the next few of days.

The National Weather Service said the swells are likely to produce "life-threatening surf and rip current conditions."

The service said Jose will begin to gradually weaken Sunday and continue to simmer down Monday.

Special correspondent Willsher reported from Paris and Times staff writer Panzar from Los Angeles.

Staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed reporting from Houston.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World