Smashed by Irma, St. Martin draws startling response from France

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now the latest from the Northeast Caribbean, where Irma hardest.

Thousands of people are still desperate for help on St. Martin and Anguilla.

We get more from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

ALEX THOMSON, ITN: The jetty's broken on this Anguilla beach. Most pumps are wrecked. So you fill up by hand. But, as we do, people arrive desperate to help their families over in St. Martin.

MAN: It's not good news, what we're hearing about St. Martin, so it's about getting my family over here right now.

ALEX THOMSON: The British Anguillans keep saying that French St. Martin, up ahead, was far worse hit, but the French government responded quicker. We want to find out.

Approaching St. Martin, the waterside concrete buildings gutted, as if some passing army has done its worst and moved on. The entire green forest slopes burned brown by blown seawater, every leaf stripped by Irma's passing. And, as ever, the poorest get hit hardest.

ALEX THOMSON: What is the biggest problem?

FRANCISCO VASQUEZ, St. Martin Resident: I was living there.

ALEX THOMSON: You live in there?

FRANCISCO VASQUEZ: I was.

ALEX THOMSON: What are you going to do?

FRANCISCO VASQUEZ: What can I do? Nothing.

ALEX THOMSON: Are you getting help?

FRANCISCO VASQUEZ: How?

ALEX THOMSON: The government?

FRANCISCO VASQUEZ: We don't know. I cannot tell you nothing. I don't know nothing yet.

ALEX THOMSON: For now, Francisco's sleeps at a friend's, his shock, bewilderment a week on mirrored everywhere here.

But here in the poorer, low-lying suburbs of St. Martin, the damage is worse because of two factors. First, the eye of the hurricane pushed over this whole area, which means they were hit by extreme winds from one direction, then a pause, a calm, then extreme winds from the opposite direction, but not only that. This low-lying area close to the sea was also demolished by a sea surge, at least a meter deep.

The brutal calling card of the surge and tsunami everywhere here, cars cast about randomly by the water, then garlanded with debris.

At the town's tennis court, Thomas Urigsa's vehicles, taken without consent by the joyriding Caribbean, then dumped.

Tell me, what's the most — your biggest problem right now?

THOMAS URIGSA, Plumber: My biggest problem is now that's my van to work. No have a van, I no can work.

ALEX THOMSON: Right, no van, no business.

THOMAS URIGSA: No business, everything done. All my materials inside my van, all the things damaged.

ALEX THOMSON: Some might laugh at the playthings of the rich smashed by Hurricane Irma, smirk at the even bigger playthings of the even richer also dispatched, except, like the wrecked hotels, these reporter jobs lost for local people who are not wealthy and depend on tourism. Not quite so amusing., but rightly not part of the clear-up priority.

The damage on St. Martin is way worse than Anguilla, but the scale of the French response is, frankly, startling. French warships patrol against piracy and secure their marine frontiers. You don't see British warships doing that. The French energy giant EDF everywhere, trenching cables. We saw no major British power company on Anguilla.

Roads long since reopened, even bridge railings patched up, and already a vast operation to dump the continents of a shredded town and the plan to do it. Nothing on this scale in Anguilla.

And, yes, people have noticed it.

THOMAS URIGSA: For now, it's OK. Now they start to clean the place. After they clean the place, maybe today, they open the gas station.

JOHN FRANCIS, St. Martin Resident: It just start coming in, like the water, but no food yet, but I think it will come.

ALEX THOMSON: The evidence of a difference in approach is all around you. This isn't scientific, but on St. Martin, we couldn't find anybody who felt the French government had done too little too late.

On British Anguilla, with half the damage, it's hard to find anybody who doesn't feel that.

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