Hurricane damage devastates Dutch St. Martin, Israelis incommunicado
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Hurricane damage devastates Dutch St. Martin, Israelis incommunicado

Foreign Ministry says four Israeli citizens out of communication; island unreachable; Jewish community suffers extensive property damage

The sunrise is seen through the rain in Cap-Haitien as Hurricane Irma approaches, September 7, 2017. (AFP/Hector RETAMAL)
The sunrise is seen through the rain in Cap-Haitien as Hurricane Irma approaches, September 7, 2017. (AFP/Hector RETAMAL)

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 Thursday.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that four Israeli citizens have not been heard from, but noted that communication systems on the island are down due to storm damage.

“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 5 storm roared through on Wednesday.

A Chabad emissary on the Dutch side of the island said a building used by the group had been damaged by the storm and many members of the Jewish community there had also suffered property losses.

“Roofs are torn off. The interiors of people’s homes have been swept away. A friend of ours who lives in a very nice, very secure building down the street from the Chabad House, his whole house was blown out,” Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz told the Chabad Online website. “He survived because he had a closet he could hide in.”

French authorities said at least eight lives have been lost on the French side of St. Martin. There were two more deaths reported on other islands in the area.

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 that 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 were tossed aside like matchsticks, roofs peeled off buildings, and debris was scattered everywhere.

Boats in a marina lay on their sides, half-submerged in water.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, and Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk give a press conference about the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in St Martin, speaking in The Hague, Netherlands, September 7, 2017. (AFP/ANP/Robin Utrecht)

“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 the support ship 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 that 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.

Also Thursday, the UK government said Irma inflicted “severe and in places critical” damage to the British overseas territory of Anguilla.

Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said the Caribbean island took the full force of the Category 5 hurricane.

He told lawmakers that the British Virgin islands have also suffered “severe damage.” On another British territory, Monsterrat, the damage is “not as severe as first thought.”

Duncan said the hurricane is expected to hit another British overseas territory, Turks and Caicos, later Thursday.

Britain has dispatched a Royal Navy ship carrying marines and army engineers to the affected islands.

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