European officials visiting Caribbean islands hit by Irma

POINT-A-PITRE, Guadeloupe (AP) — France’s president, Britain’s foreign secretary and the Dutch king are visiting Caribbean territories hammered by Hurricane Irma, where residents have accused European governments of insufficient preparation or slow response to the storm’s devastation.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plane brought water, food and tons of medicines and emergency equipment. His first stop was Guadeloupe, an overseas department of France, where he landed on Tuesday morning and was greeted by officials.

Macron will then head to the French-Dutch island of St. Martin, one of the hardest-hit islands where 10 people were killed, to meet with residents. He will finish off his trip in St. Barts.

The president is also being accompanied by doctors and experts who will be in charge of evaluating the damage.

About 1,500 French troops, police and emergency workers are already on the ground to help islanders, and 500 others were expected to arrive in the coming days, according to French authorities.

Territories with links to Europe were battered by Irma, which left entire islands and tens of thousands of people without water or electricity and reduced many homes to splinters. The French, British and Dutch governments sent warships, planes and security forces to keep order and deliver aid.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will visit the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla to see the relief effort firsthand, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

On Monday, he defended the government’s response amid claims it was slow to help the British overseas territories, saying there had been an “unprecedented” effort to deal with the aftermath of the storm. At least five people died in the British territories.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander arrived on St. Martin on Monday and said the scenes of devastation are the worst he has ever seen. St. Martin is an island shared between a French territory and the former Dutch colony of St. Maarten, a largely autonomous part of the Dutch kingdom with a population of around 40,000.

In images broadcast by Dutch national network NOS, Willem-Alexander says, “I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I’ve seen a lot of natural disasters in my life. I’ve seen a lot of war zones in my life, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Willem-Alexander said he was encouraged to see residents already working together to rebuild the shattered capital, Philipsburg.

“It’s been very useful to see for myself what terrible damage this storm has done and in this way to also show the population of St. Martin and the governor and prime minister that we stand together here as a kingdom and that we will solve this together,” he told reports on the island.

Willem-Alexander was scheduled to fly Tuesday to the nearby Dutch islands of Saba and St. Eustatius, which also were hit by Irma, but suffered less damage than St. Martin.

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Sylvie Corbet reported from Paris. Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands, and Gregory Katz in London, contributed to this report.

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