Hurricane Irma ‘rescue’ of Portuguese nationals “could last till Sunday”

Portuguese nationals caught up in the chaos and confusion caused by Hurricane Irma are being airlifted ‘back home’ in an Air Force plane that may not arrive here before Sunday.

For now, only small groups have made it back to national territory under their own steam.

Mother-of-two Lola Barros has been telling State television network RTP how she made the decision to quit St Barts – where she has been living with her family for the last two years – because she knew Hurricane José was on the way as a Category 4 storm, and with the island already “fragilised”, staying put simply wasn’t an option.

Joining an evacuation flight laid on by French airline Air Antilles, Barros and her children met up with another group of fleeing Portuguese, and made it to Paris, thanks to the French military – continuing on later to Porto.

But Barros is one of the “lucky ones”: over 100 nationals seeking ‘rescue’ may well have to wait until Sunday, say reports.

An Air Force C-130 plane purportedly set off to pick them up on Monday, but it is now in Brazil “awaiting instructions”.

Meantime, Portuguese authorities are still unclear over how many nationals have been caught up in this disaster. The island of St Barts, for instance, has a “significant Portuguese population”, explains tabloid Correio da Manhã.

If it transpires that there are too many people hoping for a place on the C-130, Secretary of State for the Communities José Luís Carneiro says the government will “take measures to set up transport on commercial flights, with the support of TAP partner operators”.

Holidaymakers caught up in the confusion, principally on the islands of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, will have already been brought back by their tour operators.

But what kind of arrangements the government will be making for nationals who live permanently in the Caribbean is not yet clear.

A glimmer of hope for Portuguese families resident on St Barts and the neighbouring French/ Dutch island of Saint Martin / Maarten is that France’s president Emmanuel Macron has pledged to cut through red-tape to ensure immediate reconstruction of devastated communities.

In the meantime, Irma has been downgraded to a tropical storm as she continues on through the southern states of the US mainland.

Hurricane José ended up missing St Barts and Saint Martin.

Irma’s death toll reached 40 people overall (including 10 on the island of Cuba), while estimates of the damages are off the scale.

The tiny island of Barbuda, for example, will apparently need “total rebuilding”.

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