(Update: Associated Press tweeted that French President Emmanuel Macron will visit St Martin on Tuesday. Macron tweeted on Saturday that an additional contingent of 240-300 French officers are being sent to restore order to the island.)
Citizens and some news sources are reporting that the island of St Martin/St Maarten is on the verge of a civil war as organized gangs armed with machetes raid stores and homes, leaving some residents in fear for their lives.
The island, which remains isolated after widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Irma, remains cut off after the island’s main airport was significantly damaged.
French news site Depeche reported that some residents have barred themselves inside their villas, fearing for their lives after gangs broke into a customs building and took weapons that were stored there.
Residents say these gangs are smashing the doors of houses, shouting “outside the whites”.
Video footage of one resident went viral on Sunday after she hinted that there are more deaths than the media is reporting. She begged for residents to be evacuated from the violence and looting.
“I’ve lived in St Martin for more than 20 years… No one fully realizes what’s going on right now – it’s the apocalypse here. The French government is doing nothing – they’re just going on TV, saying they are doing this or that but nothing is being done.”
“The police are not well trained…they haven’t lifted a finger to help us out of this mess. Stop showing us footage of destruction here – we know that already… come help us! We want to get out of St Martin! We cannot stay here! People are being killed! We pay our taxes and follow all the rules… Come get us! We cannot stay here! You have to evacuate the people that are here. We are part of France so get off your butts, stop talking rubbish on television – there are not 10 deaths, there are thousands of deaths! So get off your butts and come help us!”
News site RCI reported on Saturday that the situation is serious:
“It is now confirmed on the basis of several testimonies, that it is the biggest chaos in St-Martin on the security level. To the plundering are added many other facts much more serious, consequence of taking possession of the street and the districts by organized gangs.”
The news site reported that gangs of people armed with cutlasses and knives are patrolling the streets and women are at high risk of being attacked or raped.
The gangs are also pillaging homes believed to be abandoned.
“The population seems to be left to its own devices, obliged to organize itself as it can to defend itself against thieves,” Thierry Fundere reported.
Last Friday Guadeloupe resident Morgane Lignières shared a social media post claiming that people were being attacked and that there was a shortage of food and water on the island of St Martin.
“It’s a disaster what happens in Saint Martin… There’s a civil war… people get kicked out by getting beaten up to get a drop of water.”
“The Army and law enforcement are completely out of date… it shoots everywhere, people fight everywhere to pick up the smallest things: for example, gasoline for groups…everyone is getting looted and no longer have food and drink… all that trying To avoid gunfire from all sides!”
“People walk around wearing hoods in cars and armed!! I beg you… help us… We’ve never seen this… it’s total ko. Families with children get déloger on anse de Sable, low ground, baie bay, big case, marigot…. it’s a horror scene.”
Meanwhile, on St Maarten, the Dutch side of the island, 1,200 people were evacuated so far and there have also been reports of looting and robberies.
A report by NBC News said 1,200 Americans were airlifted off the island amid reports of violence and looting.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a media briefing that the “situation is serious” and that more armed forces have been deployed to restore order.