French president Emmanuel Macron has promised to rebuild the wrecked island of St Martin following devastation caused by Hurricane Irma and to diversify its economy away from tourism.
Mr Macron, whose administration has been criticised for its response to the storm, also promised to evacuate residents of his country’s Caribbean territories and provide services and shelter for those who choose to stay.
Mr Macron stayed overnight on St Martin, reportedly sleeping on a camp cot, and was heading on Wednesday to the heavily-damaged island of St Barts.
“What we have seen today are people determined to rebuild and return to a normal life,” Mr Macron said yesterday. “They are impatient for answers and some are very, very angry. “The anger is legitimate because it is a result of the fear they have faced and of being very fatigued. “It is certain that some want to leave, and we will help them in that effort.”
He said France was bringing in air-conditioned tents so children can start classes again soon, and that a centre would be established by Monday to begin processing requests for financial help. Mr Macron pledged to rebuild St Martin as a “model island” that would be a “showcase of French excellence” in terms of its ability to withstand storms.
“I don’t want to rebuild St Martin as it was,” he said. “We have seen there are many homes that were built too precariously, with fragile infrastructure. “The geography of the homes was not adapted to the risks.”
Mr Macron said the Category Five hurricane killed 11 people in St. Martin, while another four people died on the Dutch side of the island, bringing the death toll in the Caribbean to at least 37.