French officials said Thursday morning that at least eight people had been killed in the French Caribbean and that rescue workers were just beginning to assess the damage Hurricane Irma had inflicted on the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy.
At least three deaths were reported elsewhere.
Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said that the figure of 23 wounded that had been provided by the French authorities might have included patients who had been hospitalized before the storm.
“The destruction is massive,” Mr. Collomb said, noting that schools had almost all been destroyed.
“By chance, the airport in the north, the French airport, has not been hit too much, so we are going to be able to land helicopters and then planes,” he said. The southern airport, in the Dutch part of the island, was more severely hit, he added.
Mr. Collomb said that the French authorities were sending barges filled with water and 100,000 French Army rations to the two islands, enough to sustain the populations there for four days.
He said that one of the main priorities was to restore electricity, to bring back the desalination plant that provides the island with drinkable water, and to get phone networks back online.
Daniel Gibbs, the president of the French territorial council on St. Martin, told Radio Caraïbes International on Wednesday night that “95 percent of the island is destroyed.”
“There are shipwrecks everywhere, destroyed houses everywhere, torn off roofs everywhere,” Mr. Gibbs said. “It’s just unbelievable, it’s indescribable.”
Asked what the island needed, Mr. Gibbs said “everything” and noted that another storm, Hurricane Jose, was expected soon after Irma.
“I need the nation to send sufficient reinforcements, to evacuate those who can be evacuated,” he said. “Because if another hurricane hits us on Saturday, it just won’t be possible. It’s not the dead that we will be counting, it’s the living.”
French authorities have expressed particular worry over the past few days about the roughly 7,000 people who refused to evacuate and take shelter inland.
Mr. Collomb, the interior minister, said that rescue workers were still trying to reach remote parts of the islands, but that so far the death toll was lower than the authorities had feared.
Annick Girardin, the minister for France’s overseas territories, said Thursday morning upon arriving on the island of Guadeloupe that “all the buildings on St. Martin,” including the hospital and fire station, had been hit by the hurricane.
“Other buildings are in a sorry state or don’t exist anymore,” she told reporters at the airport in Point-à-Pitre, the largest city on Guadeloupe.
Ms. Girardin said that the authorities would use the island as a base to deliver aid to St. Martin and to bring back the wounded.
—AURELIEN BREEDEN and ELIAN PELTIER
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