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Is the island of Anguilla getting the Irma aid it needs?

September 12, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
When Hurricane Irma shattered islands across the Caribbean, one of the hardest hit was Anguilla, where residents in need of food, water, fuel and electricity received the first major delivery of aid from Britain six days after the storm hit. Alex Thomson of Independent Television News reports on how the island is managing and what the disaster says about the island’s relationship to Britain.
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JOHN YANG: Across the Northern Caribbean, the French president and the British foreign secretary visited the region today, as aid from Europe and the United Nations poured into a string of shattered islands.

One of the hardest hit is the British island of Anguilla.

That’s where Alex Thomson of Independent Television News is.

ALEX THOMSON, ITN: With the plane loaded with as much aid as she would carry, we approached Anguilla. Irma’s passing starkly obviously from the moment you hit the tarmac in Anguilla.

Douglas Biggs somehow survived Irma inside this. It was once a house, his house.

You keep smiling. You look happy. Why — after this has happened, why are you happy man?

DOUGLAS BIGGS, Hurricane Victim: Because I am alive. That’s why I’m happy.

ALEX THOMSON: Because you’re alive.

DOUGLAS BIGGS: Yes.

ALEX THOMSON: Suddenly, at the airstrip, an RAF transport arrives out of the blue, raising hope that a serious aid delivery at last is coming to Anguilla.

What you’re seeing behind me in this RAF transport plane is essentially the first major delivery of aid from Britain to Anguilla. And people on this island are asking why it is that it’s taken six days to achieve that.

VICTOR BANKS, Chief Minister, Anguilla: We are not here to spend time talking about responses and times. We are here to start talking about the recovery, making people — making sure that people are taken care of. We can talk about that after. The postmortem can deal with those issues. But for now, we are concerned about getting things started.

ALEX THOMSON: On the streets though, a very different assessment. Long queues at the three functioning petrol stations left here and short shrift for the British response.

MAN: They haven’t done nothing for me as yet. But I’m hoping, and I’m looking out for something to be done.

ALEX THOMSON: What do you need?

MAN: I need a roof.

ALEX THOMSON: Low on water, food, fuel, no electricity and many homeless in heat and humidity. The mood is fragile.

Critics say this whole disaster is a chance to reexamine the island’s relationship with London, because, over there, they say just 18 minutes away by boat, things couldn’t be more different, Saint Martin, behind me, as part of metropolitan France as Bordeaux or Marseille, they get exactly the same from the central government in terms of spending, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of the whole relationship as if they were a part of mainland France.

But if you come back here onto Anguilla, things are totally different.

Are the French getting more, sir, than you’re getting here? Are they getting a better deal from Paris than you’re getting from London?

HUBERT HUGHES, Former Chief Minister, Anguilla: Oh, God, no comparison.

ALEX THOMSON: No comparison?

HUBERT HUGHES: No comparison. The French take full responsibility for their territory across the water.

ALEX THOMSON: And the British don’t?

HUBERT HUGHES: Never. Never does. I think Britain must now wake up to the fact that we are no longer a dependent territory. We are a British overseas territory. We are British, completely British.

ALEX THOMSON: The Anguillians welcome the British foreign secretary to this battered island tomorrow. Across the water today, on Saint Martin, the Dutch monarch, King Alexander, arrived.

And on the French side of the island, they welcomed their president. Back on Anguilla, they await any head of state or government in vain. The electricity system here totally wrecked. The ferry terminal a world away from functioning. Tourism, the mainstay of the economy, of life here, ripped apart.

Dusk falls over the biggest private employer in Anguilla, the Four Seasons resort. They say it will be six months minimum before they reopen.

JOHN YANG: That report from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

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