Lengthy traces type for support on Irma-battered Caribbean islands

By Andrea Rodriguez and Desmond Boylan / Associated Press

HAVANA – After the ports were repaired and the weather cleared, officials battled Monday to get aid to the Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma, trying to take stock of the damage caused by the Category 5 storm.

At least 34 people are said to have been killed in the region, including 10 in Cuba, whose north coast was hit by the storm. Cuban state media said most of them died in Havana, where seawater seeped deep into residential areas.

To the east, on the Leeward Islands, known as the playground for the rich and famous, governments have been criticized for failing to respond quickly to the hurricane that flattened many cities and turned lush green hills into brown stubble.

The residents have reported shortages of food, water and medicine, as well as looting.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson defended his administration’s response to what he described as an “unprecedented disaster” and pledged to increase funds for the relief effort. Britain sent a naval ship and nearly 500 soldiers to the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which were hit by the hurricane.

The U.S. government said it was sending a flight Monday to evacuate its citizens from St. Martin, one of the hardest-hit islands. Evacuees were warned to expect long lines and no running water at the airport.

A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship was supposed to dock near St. Martin to help in the aftermath, and one boat brought a 5-ton crane that could unload large auxiliary containers. A French military ship was due to arrive Tuesday with materials for temporary housing.

Approximately 70 percent of the beds in the main hospital in the French part of St. Martin were badly damaged and more than 100 people in urgent need of medical attention were evacuated. Eight of the territory’s eleven pharmacies were destroyed and Guadeloupe sent medicines.

The Dutch King Willem-Alexander flew to St. Maarten, which shares the island with the French dependence on St. Martin, to see the devastation caused by Irma and to thank the helpers. Dutch news outlets revealed the king touring the badly damaged Princess Juliana International Airport, named after his grandmother.

French President Emmanuel Macron was due to arrive in St. Martin on Tuesday to provide aid and fend off criticism that he did not do enough to respond to the storm.

“The whole government is mobilized” to help, said Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.

Shortly after Irma killed 10 people on St. Martin’s, Category 4 Hurricane Jose threatened the area, halting evacuation for hours before going out to sea and causing little additional damage.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents of the capital, Charlotte Amalie, reported long lines to cut down on basic food supplies such as water, food and gasoline.

“You don’t get anything from the city. Nothing. No food. No water. Everything is closed, ”said Rene Concepcion, who waited up to three hours for water.

The situation is complicated by a noon-6pm curfew, which usually leaves just enough time for people to get just one essential item, Gladys Collins said.

“This time is the time when we have to do everything we need: water, food, gasoline,” she said. “There’s a long line everywhere you go.”

Cuba was also badly affected, where the central districts of Havana along the coast between the Almendares River and the port were the worst flooded. Sea water penetrated up to half a mile inland in places.

The Cuban state media reported 10 deaths despite the country’s normally rigorous disaster preparedness. More than 1 million have been evacuated from flood-prone areas.

Hector Pulpito shared a harrowing experience while working as a night watchman on a parking lot that was flooded five blocks from the sea in Havana’s Vedado district.

“This was the worst storm I’ve been through and the sea rose a lot higher,” said Pulpito. “The trees were trembling. Metal roofs flew. ”

Cuban state television reported serious damage to hotels in the northern keys off the provinces of Ciego de Avila and Camagüey.

Jardines del Rey Airport, which serves the northern keys, has been destroyed, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported, and tweeted photos of a broken terminal hall littered with debris.

Boylan reported from Caibarien, Cuba. Associate press writer Danica Coto of San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed.