Dutch king to visit hurricane-hit Sint Maarten as relief effort picks up steam

Fresh water supplies reach Saba. Photo: Ministerie van Defensie / Gerben van Es / Hollandse Hoogte

King Willem-Alexander will visit the hurricane-hit Caribbean island of Sint Maarten on Monday as part of a short visit to meet locals and assess the relief effort.

The king and home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk arrived on Curaçao on Sunday where they were briefed about the aid effort so far. They also visited a hospital to meet people who had been injured when hurricane Irma lashed the former Dutch colony last week.

‘I’m here in the first place to find out what has happened so far and what the coordination from Curaçao has done,’ the king told local media. ‘The only message I have so far is that we realise what has happened to you and we are doing our best to help everyone who needs it. You can count on our help.’




The evacuation of people injured by the hurricane has been completed and holidaymakers are now being brought out, news agency ANP said. It is unclear how many tourists are on the island.

The US has evacuated some 3,000 tourists and American nationals who live there.

Soldiers

Plasterk said he is impressed by what the police and military have achieved so far. He dismissed claims that the Netherlands has not done enough by pointing out that hundreds of people had already been dispatched to the islands before the hurricane hit.

On Monday, fresh water will be distributed to people left without water supplies and equipment to turn sea water into drinking water is also being flown in. Some 550 Dutch soldiers are in the region to help with the relief effort.

On the smaller islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius, which were not as badly hit as Sint Maarten, the roads have now been cleared of debris and made passable again, ANP said.

Meanwhile, prime minister Mark Rutte told a news conference on Sunday that the death toll in the Dutch half of the island has risen to four, including two unidentified bodies which were washed ashore.