Dutch king to visit hurricane struck islands

Soldiers traveling from Curacao to Sint Maarten to provide support in aftermath of Hurricane Irma, 9 Sept 2017
Soldiers traveling from Curacao to Sint Maarten to provide support in aftermath of Hurricane Irma, 9 Sept 2017Photo: @C_ZMCARIB / Twitter

King Willem-Alexander will visit Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba on Monday to see the aftermath of Hurricane Irma with his own eyes, Minister Ronald Plasterk of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations said on Curacao on Sunday afternoon, ANP reports.

Plasterk spoke with the press after visiting patients at the Sint Elisabeth Hospital, who were flown to Curacao after the hurricane to get medical treatment. Before that he and the King visited the meteorological service in Curacao and the Parera naval center. 

"The message I have for Sint Maarten the following: We realize what happened to you and we will do our best to help anyone who needs help. Trust the help", King Willem-Alexander said on Sunday afternoon, local time. 

Hurricane Irma's death toll on Sint Maarten increased to four, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced in a press conference on Sunday. The identities of the victims were not revealed. Two victims washed ashore. A third died a natural death, according to ANP. 

Rutte said that the security situation on the island is improving, but still called it fragile. Residents are still not allowed to go outside. Plasterk also said that looting on Sint Maarten decreased. "But you still can not speak of a safe situation. On the main cross roads there are now people who are visibly armed. But in the neighborhoods, this has not been sufficiently achieved", he said. 

Emergency relief for Sint Maarten picked up again on Sunday, after it was halted while Hurricane Jose passed by the island. The hurricane just missed the island. According to the KNMI, Jose caused strong winds and heavy rain on the Caribbean islands that form part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but the wind power on Sint Maarten remained limited to wind power 6 or 7. "We can now really get started on rebuilding our country", Parliament President Sarah Wescot-Williams said, according to the news wire.

The priority for the coming days is to make sure that everyone gets shelter and to get the hospital on Sint Maarten operational again, Rutte said. On Sunday a total of 392 soldiers were helping out on Sint Maarten. Their task is to provide security and distribute emergency supplies. On Monday another 44 soldiers will arrive on the island, and another 120 will leave the Netherlands for Sint Maarten. The plane that took soldiers and emergency supplies to Sint Maarten on Sunday, also flew tourists from the island to Curacao. 

On Sunday the Dutch Red Cross took drinking water and food to Sint Maarten. On Monday the aid organization hopes to send another plane carrying 5,800 tarpaulins, 2 thousand kitchen sets and 9 thousand jerrycans. The Red Cross team consists of 30 members - 18 from Curacao, 17 from Aruba and five specialists from the Netherlands. One expert will chart how the drinking water supply on the island can be restored. Two others will use drones to scout over the island to estimate damages and see who needs help most urgently. The aid workers will also attempt to get a radio station back on air to improve communication.

A group of 59 volunteers from Urban Search and Rescue will fly to Curacao on Monday, from where they will travel to Sint Maarten. The team includes Defense personnel, employees of Dutch safety offices and hospital workers. They will provide emergency assistance and coordination and will help get the local ambulance services and fire brigades working again.

People in the Netherlands already donated over 1.5 million euros to Giro 5125, which the Red Cross established to help the islands hit by Hurricane Irma. The aid organization called on people to donate money, instead of items. 

Teams from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom relations will go to Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius to see what is needed for long-term recovery. After that, a plan will be drawn up, according to the news wire. Hans Leijtens, former head of the Koninklijke Marechaussee, was appointed to lead this project. 

France also asked to use the port and airport on Sint Maarten to bring emergency supplies to the French part of the island, Rutte said. "We help each other where we can", the Dutch Prime Minister said, according to ANP.

According to Rutte, the situation on Saba and Sint Eustatius is normalizing somewhat, but supplying food and drinking water remains a problem. Cleanup and repairs are underway on the two islands and the roads on both islands are usable. 

Defense provided a new water supply to Saba and expects that the drinking water factory will be working again within a few days, according to the news wire. New delivery routes are being sought for food delivery. And the hospital on the island is supplied with the regular medicines.

On Sint Eustatius the fixed telecommunications network is working, but the mobile network is limited. The seaport is virtually undamaged and the airport's state is such that it can be used for military transport. The most urgent need is still water and food supply, and that is being worked on, ANP reports.