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Foreign officials visit hurricane-hit Caribbean islands

British and French governments have sent rescue and relief efforts to the islands devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Irma in Nagua

A number of foreign dignitaries are set to visit the Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander was the first notable to visit the Dutch side of Saint Martin on Monday and was scheduled to fly to two other smaller Dutch islands on Tuesday.

"Everywhere you can see destruction and horror," the king told Dutch television in the capital, Philipsburg. "I have never seen anything like this, and I have seen quite a lot of nature's force and the violence of war."

The Dutch army and the Red Cross are providing emergency assistance. Naval ships and military aircraft have been supplying the 40,000 or so inhabitants of the territory with water, food and tents.

French President Emmanuel Macron is also due to arrive on Saint Martin on Tuesday, and the presidential plane will carry essential goods and materials.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Monday that local authorities would draw up evacuation lists for residents who want to leave Saint Martin.

Priority in evacuation to Guadeloupe or mainland France will be given to vulnerable people whose homes are uninhabitable, including the elderly and families with young children.

With Saint Martin's hospitals hard hit by Irma, Philippe said a tent clinic would be opened on the island. A warship being dispatched from mainland France would also offer residents its medical facilities on board.

Meanwhile, and facing mounting criticism of his government's rescue and relief efforts, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is scheduled to visit the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.

There are 700 troops and more than 50 police on the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and Turks and Caicos, Johnson said after an emergency COBRA meeting on Monday.

More than 40 tonnes of aid has arrived in the region, including 2,608 shelter kits which can provide cover for more than 13,000 people, the UK's Foreign Office said.

British billionaire Richard Branson, who rode out the hurricane in his wine cellar on his private Necker Island, wrote on his blog that Europe must play a vital role in the reconstruction and recovery of the region.

"The UK government will have a massive role to play in the recovery of its territories affected by Irma - both through short-term aid and long-term infrastructure spending," he wrote.

'Damage will be repaired before high season'

At least 35 people have been killed by Irma in the Caribbean, 10 of whom were in Cuba. This is Cuba's worst hurricane death toll since 16 died in Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

Havana was in recovery mode Monday, with crews clearing away thousands of fallen trees and electricity restored to a handful of neighbourhoods. Schools were closed until further notice.

President Raul Castro issued a message to the nation that didn't mention the deaths, but described damage to "housing, the electrical system and agriculture".

He also acknowledged destruction in the northern keys where Cuba and foreign hotel management firms have built dozens of all-inclusive beach resorts in recent years.

The Jardines del Rey airport serving the northern keys was destroyed, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported, tweeting photos of a shattered terminal hall littered with debris.

"The storm hit some of our principal tourist destinations, but the damage will be repaired before the high season" starting in November, Castro wrote.


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