Long lines form for aid on Irma-battered Caribbean islands
HAVANA (AP) — With ports mended and weather cleared, officials struggled Monday to get aid to Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma and tried to take stock of the damage caused by the Category 5 storm.
At least 34 people were reported to have been killed in the region, including 10 in Cuba, whose northern coast was raked by the storm. Cuban state media said most of those died in Havana, where seawater surged deep into residential neighborhoods.
To the east, in the Leeward Islands known as the playground for the rich and famous, governments came under criticism for failing to respond quickly to the hurricane, which flattened many towns and turned lush, green hills to a brown stubble.
Residents have reported food, water and medicine shortages, as well as looting.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson defended his government's response to what he called an "unprecedented catastrophe" and promised to increase funding for the relief effort. Britain sent a navy ship and almost 500 troops to the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos islands that were pummeled 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 expected to dock near St. Martin to help in the aftermath, and a boat was bringing a 5-ton crane capable of unloading large shipping containers of aid. A French military ship was scheduled to arrive Tuesday with materials for temporary housing.
About 70 percent of the beds at the main hospital in the French portion of St. Martin were severely damaged, and more than 100 people needing urgent medical care were evacuated. Eight of the territory's 11 pharmacies were destroyed, and Guadeloupe was sending medication.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander flew to St. Maarten, which shares the island with the French dependency of St. Martin, to see the devastation wreaked by Irma and express gratitude to relief workers. Dutch news outlets showed the king touring the badly damaged Princess Juliana International Airport, which was named for his grandmother.
French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to arrive Tuesday in St. Martin to bring aid and fend off criticism that he didn't do enough to respond to the storm.
The "whole government is mobilized" to help, said Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
Soon after Irma killed 10 people on St. Martin, Category 4 Hurricane Jose threatened the area, halting evacuations for hours before heading out to sea and causing little additional damage.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents of the capital of Charlotte Amalie reported long lines for dwindling supplies of basics such as water, food and gasoline.
"You get nothing from the city. Nothing. No food. No water. Everything is closed," said Rene Concepcion, who waited for up to three hours to get water.
Complicating the situation is a noon-to-6 p.m. curfew that usually gives people just enough time to get only one essential item, said Gladys Collins.
"That period of time is the time that we have to do whatever we need: water, food, gasoline," she said. "Everywhere that you go is a long line."
Also hit hard was Cuba, where central Havana neighborhoods along the coast between the Almendares River and the harbor suffered the worst flooding. Seawater penetrated as much as a half-kilometer (one-third of a mile) inland in some places.
Cuban state media reported 10 deaths despite the country's usually rigorous disaster preparations. More than 1 million were evacuated from flood-prone areas.
Hector Pulpito recounted a harrowing experience at his job as night custodian of a parking lot that flooded five blocks from the sea in Havana's Vedado neighborhood.
"This was the worst of the storms I have been through, and the sea rose much higher," Pulpito said. "The trees were shaking. Metal roofs went flying."
Cuban state television reported severe damage to hotels on the northern keys off Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces.
The Jardines del Rey airport serving the northern keys was destroyed, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported, tweeting photos of a shattered terminal hall littered with debris.