AFP-Jiji MARIGOT, ST. Martin (AFP-Jiji) — French President Emmanuel Macron and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson traveled Tuesday to the hurricane-hit Caribbean, rebuffing criticism over the relief efforts as European countries boost aid to their devastated island territories.
Macron’s plane touched down in St. Martin as anger grew over looting and lawlessness in the French-Dutch territory after Hurricane Irma.
Speaking in Guadeloupe earlier, Macron said the government began preparing “one of the biggest airlifts since World War II” days before Irma hit on Wednesday.
“Now is not the time for controversy,” he said, adding: “Returning life to normal is the absolute priority.”
The French, British and Dutch governments have faced criticism for failing to anticipate the disaster, with an editorial in The Telegraph newspaper calling the response “appallingly slow.”
Touring St. Martin, Macron was at times jeered by people waiting for aid supplies or hoping to catch flights for France in order to escape the devastation across the island.
“We’ve been here since six in the morning and we’re still waiting, under a blazing sun,” said one woman in a crowd of people hoping to leave as soon as possible.
Another woman asked: “Why are you here?”
But Macron said that “everybody who wants to leave will be able to,” with officials saying that about 2,000 of the 35,000 residents on the French side of St. Martin had already left in recent days.
Johnson arrived Tuesday in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, where he met with some of the nearly 1,000 military personnel sent to bolster relief efforts and security.
He was also expected to visit the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.
“The U.K. is going to be with you for the long term,” Johnson had told residents in a video message.
He has dismissed the criticism as “completely unjustified,” calling the relief effort “unprecedented.”
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands is already in the region, which bore the brunt of one of the most powerful storms on record.
He toured Sint Maarten, the Dutch section of the island, on Monday, before meeting residents on Saba island Tuesday. He was set to travel on to Sint Eustatius, which suffered severe damage.
The Dutch Red Cross has raised €3.2 million ($3.8 million) for the devastated islands in under a week.