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After Irma, Slow Restoration of Services as Leaders Pledge More Help

  • VOA News

Emergency workers and National Guard troops are working to find those left stranded in the Florida Keys by Hurricane Irma, while France and Britain pledge to boost their response to those hit by the storms in their territories in the Caribbean.

French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, a day after arriving in Guadeloupe where he acknowledged the angry response some people have to what they see as inadequate help from France. Macron promised more supplies and security forces for the islands.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is touring Wednesday in Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, two places that took hard hits from Irma last week when it was a powerful Category 5 storm. He also said more security forces and "huge quantities of supplies" were coming, and that he expects Prime Minister Theresa May to announce further aid.

The United Nations is airlifting food and other vital relief to the islands of Antigua, St. Martin, and the Turks and Caicos.

Buildings that were partially or completely destroyed by Irma are seen during the visit of France's President Emmanuel Macron in the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin, Sept. 12, 2017.
Buildings that were partially or completely destroyed by Irma are seen during the visit of France's President Emmanuel Macron in the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin, Sept. 12, 2017.

Death toll

The hurricane killed at least 37 people in the Caribbean and devastated the islands, including Barbuda, which has evacuated all of its citizens to Antigua.

A further 24 deaths have been linked to Irma in the United States.

Among the dead in Florida were six nursing home patients in Hollywood, located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said the nursing home was evacuated Wednesday due to the lack of power. Three people were found dead during the evacuation and three others died after arriving at the hospital.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, where some residents were evacuated early Sunday and others woke up feeling sick.

Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said the deaths are believed to have been caused by the heat. The air conditioning was not working, but Sanchez said investigators are looking into whether power was entirely cut. He did not answer questions about whether a generator was operating inside the facility.

The Florida Keys were the hardest-hit area on the U.S. mainland. In addition to rescue operations there, National Guard troops are also working to clear roads and runways in order to allow deliveries of life-saving supplies to the island chain where authorities have only allowed people to access the northernmost areas.

Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that according to preliminary estimates, 25 percent of homes were destroyed and 65 percent sustained major damage.

"Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted in some way or another," Long said.

Damaged sail boats are shown in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Sept. 11, 2017, in the Florida Keys.
Damaged sail boats are shown in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Sept. 11, 2017, in the Florida Keys.

Amid disarray, signs of restoration

Thousands of people remained in shelters across Florida, while about 40 percent of households were without power by late Tuesday. Authorities have said it will take weeks before electricity is restored to everyone.

But there are signs of life returning to normal, with airports resuming flights, curfews in many areas being lifted and major theme parks in Florida reopening.

Governor Rick Scott's office said key ports resumed operations Tuesday with a priority on bringing in fuel tanker ships, and that highway patrol officers were ready to escort delivery trucks to the many gas stations that have seen shortages since before the storm hit. All of Florida's interstate highways are also open.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday on Twitter that "amazing people" were working hard to ease the havoc. He is planning to visit Florida on Thursday.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said Wednesday Trump will stop in the southwestern Florida city of Naples. Little additional information about the trip was made available.

Hurricane relief telethon

During a White House briefing with reporters Wednesday, Huckabee-Sanders was asked how soon estimates on additional federal relief aid would be disclosed.

“It would be premature to put those estimates out there,” she said and added “Once we have those numbers we’ll let you know.”

Meanwhile, some of the biggest stars in show business took part in a benefit concert Tuesday that raised more than $44 million for the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Stevie Wonder opened the show while such superstars as Cher, Barbara Streisand, Tom Hanks and Robert DeNiro answered telephones from viewers to accept donations.

It is going to cost tens of billions of dollars to replace homes and repair infrastructures destroyed by the two storms. Harvey slammed into the southeastern state of Texas last month as a Category 4 storm while Irma struck the Florida Keys Sunday and moved up the Gulf coast, causing floods and destruction across the entire state.

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