Military planes evacuate hurricane-hit tourists to Europe

AFP , Monday 11 Sep 2017

Military plane
This photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 shows people walking into a military plane on St. Maarten, after the passage of Hurricane Irma (Photo: AP)

France and the Netherlands on Monday evacuated tourists from Caribbean holiday islands hit by hurricane Irma in the face of criticism about how long it took for the operation to get underway.

Two military planes were due to land in Paris and Eindhoven in the southern Netherlands with 278 and 100 people onboard respectively, authorities in both countries said.

Paris faces mounting accusations from the opposition that it was ill-prepared for the monster storm that hit its territories of St Barthelemy and St Martin, an island that is split between French and Dutch rule.

The Dutch government has similarly been accused of being slow to react, particularly in organising rescue flights to bring home tourists left stranded when the storm hit the Caribbean on Wednesday.

"They reacted far too late," said Kitty Algra, who was among the first group of 55 Dutch tourists evacuated on a military flight from Sint Maarten -- the Dutch part of St Martin -- to the nearby island of Curacao to await a flight home.

Algra told the Dutch newspaper AD of a chaotic situation after Irma devastated the island, destroying some 60 percent of homes.

"Immediately after the storm, people were walking around with baseball bats," she said. "That was more disappointing than the hurricane."

In France, opposition firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon has demanded a parliamentary inquiry into whether enough security forces have been sent to restore order on St Martin, as looting broke out after the storm.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe angrily accused politicians of trying to capitalise on the hurricane, calling for "solidarity with our citizens, many of whom have lost everything".

Britain, too, has faced criticism that it has been slow to help its nationals caught up in the disaster -- including in the British Virgin Islands, where five people were killed.

But Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the criticism "completely unjustified".

Britain has pledged £32 million (35 million euros, $42 million) in aid and sent hundreds of troops, supplies and rescue equipment on several flights to the British territories in the Caribbean since Friday.

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