Press Confrence with French PM and ministers on 7/09/17
7 September 2017

Irma: now is the time for action, solidarity and urgency

Hurricane Irma, which has been classified as a category 5 storm (the highest on the scale), has crossed the Antilles and hit the French islands of Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélemy. Winds of up to 360 km an hour have been recorded.

The interministerial crisis unit was activated by the Prime Minister on 5 September and has been meeting daily to review the situation. At the close of its meeting on 7 September, the Prime Minister returned to the subject of the resources deployed by the Government and State services.

Reconnaissance work carried out by the emergency services has been hampered by extremely difficult local conditions.
The hurricane is of exceptional strength and has caused considerable material damage.
  • As regards housing, roofs have been blown off and many houses badly damaged, although the full extent of the destruction is yet to be determined. According to Saint-Martin’s local authorities, 95% of homes have been affected and 60% are uninhabitable (figures will be updated as more information comes in).
  • As regards networks, electricity has been cut off, there is no drinking water and petrol is unavailable. Roads are still largely impassable even though initial clearance operations are underway. Electronic communications are difficult as networks have been heavily impacted.
  • As regards major facilities, in Saint-Martin, the port and Grand Case regional airport are usable for organising emergency services’ arrival. A military aircraft was able to land at around 9 a.m. on Thursday. Despite the damage suffered by Saint-Martin’s hospital, its operating theatres can be used, and the fire brigade’s and gendarmerie’s local resources are functioning. The hospital on Saint-Barthélemy continues to function normally.
The Government and State services had anticipated deployment of response resources and already had human and healthcare resources in position.
The Government has taken all necessary measures and all State services have been mobilised to come to the populations’ aid and protect them; as the Prime Minister told his audience at a press conference held on Thursday 7 September, “400 gendarmes and 400 military firefighters from the Civil Security Department are arriving from Guadeloupe, and Red Cross volunteers and twenty or so health workers are already on the ground. On mainland France, fire-fighter reinforcements, a mobile gendarmerie squadron and technicians responsible for identifying the victims who continue to come in are getting ready for departure.”
In the face of the storm’s extraordinary destructive power, now is the time for action, solidarity and urgency. “For the moment, we are focusing on managing the emergency: bringing in water, food and medical care,” Edouard Philippe told BFMTV viewers on Thursday evening.
However, the rescue and support work operations currently underway will continue long after the storm has passed. The Government is already working to prepare for the aftermath. The Declaration of Natural Disaster is set to be signed on 8 September. An initial interministerial meeting will be held at Matignon the same day in order to organise mobilisation over time, for this emergency phase and for the reconstruction phase to come.
As soon as is feasible and in collaboration with Saint-Martin’s and Saint-Barthélemy’s local authorities, expert assessment missions will be sent in to make detailed evaluations of the damage caused and provide the communities with all the support they require. A conference bringing together all those involved in reconstruction work will also be organised.
The quality of the response to this disaster also depends on the solidarity of all our fellow citizens, which is why the Government has requested the Fondation de France to centralise and distribute donations to victims. The number is 0 800 500 100.