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Americas

Macron faces angry French West Indians a year after Hurricane Irma

media French President Emmanuel Macron in Quartier-d’Orléans in Saint-Martin, 29 September 2018, a year after it was devastated by Hurricane Irma. Thomas SAMSON / AFP / POOL

French President Emmanuel Macron spent the most part of the weekend visiting residents of the French overseas territory of Saint-Martin, which was hit just over a year ago by Hurricane Irma, fulfilling a promise he made to do so.

On the 5-6 September 2017 the strongest storm ever recorded in the region killed 11 people in Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy and thousands are still struggling to recover from the damage.

In Saint Martin nearly 20 percent of buildings were destroyed fully or severely damaged.

On Saturday Macron spent several hours going from apartment to apartment in the village of Quartier-d’Orléans, one of the poorest on the island, speaking to families who expressed their frustration with the slow pace of the clean-up operations.

He was accompanied by Health Minister Agnès Buzyn and Minister for Overseas Territories Annick Girardin, who faced the crowds of people asking questions and pointing out their difficulties.

Macron told the press that he was disappointed that the effect of the millions of euros handed out for aid were not visible in the field.

"I want to see works sped up," he said. "Schools have not reopened quickly enough because others areas have been favoured for reconstruction and that is not acceptable."

He pointed the finger at corruption and local mismanagement.

"Saint-Martin is an island where there is too much wheeling and dealing, and sometimes even corruption, and that has to stop," the president said. "We are going to put more controls in place because I cannot accept what I saw today."

Minority of buildings repaired

Prime Minister Edoaurd Philippe admits that the recovery efforts are not up to scratch.

At an inter-ministerial meeting on 17 September in Paris, it was reported that only 35 percent of buildings had been repaired and only 68 percent of insurance claims had been paid.

Macron also took a moment during his visit to berate a young man who had recently been released from prison. He told him to stop carrying out armed robberies and shape up.

"Your mother deserves better" said the president.

After this exchange French right-wing daily Le Figaro drew attention to some selfies which were published showing Macron with two youths, including the one Macron spoke to who was making a rude gesture with his middle finger.

National Rally leader Marine Le Pen seized on the revelation, describing the event as "inexcusable".

At a press conference on Sunday, Macron played down the reactions to the photo and responded to criticism by saying how much he wanted to help young people from all corners of the republic.

He said that Le Pen's far-right base excluded the youth.

"I love every child of the republic regardless of the foolish things they might have done," he declared. "These are kids who had no choice about where they were born."

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