Traumatised hurricane ‘casualties’ arrive back on national soil

Depending on which media stories you read, Portuguese residents from the hurricane devastated French Antilles have arrived on national soil “traumatised and scared to return” or “emotional and determined to go back”.

What is clear is that the 70 or so nationals flown home courtesy of the Portuguese government yesterday have lost nearly everything.

As civil construction worker Rui Costa told Lusa: “There is a lot to do there. Everything has to be rebuilt”.

While Costa vowed to return to his devastated home on St Barts in January – ahead of his wife and children – to make a start on reconstruction work, others are not so sure.

“They are traumatised”, explained José Fernandes Rodrigues, a long-time resident on the island of Guadalupe where Irma casualties were flown ahead of onward trips to safety.

Rodrigues remains in Guadalupe, taking in stragglers as they wait for onward flights home.

Today he has “just one family from Leiria in his house” but he has been taking in an average of 11 people every day, says Lusa.

“One group told me they had to hide in a water tank, with water up to their waists, while the hurricane pulled everything out of their home. It has been very, very hard for these people”.

The C-130 plane carrying nationals touched down in Lisbon on Thursday evening to be ‘welcomed home’ by the minister of foreign affairs Augusto Santos Silva and secretary of state for defence Marcos Perestrello.

But meantime, something positive from the disaster has come for Portuguese living in the French Antilles.

Secretary of State for the Communities told Lusa that from May next year the government will be establishing a consular presence “at least once a year” to cater for the over 2000 nationals who live on the islands, principally St Barts and Saint Martin.

Said Rodrigues, who runs the association Guadalusa, described as linking Portugal with the islands: “This is a very important first step”.

Up until now, every time Portuguese have had to deal with nationality/ passport issues, they have had to travel, he said, thousands of miles – either to Paris or home to Portugal.

“I am happy that after so much struggling and suffering a door has opened to resolve this problem”, he added.

Needless to say, the ‘French association of mayors of Portuguese origin’ suggests much more needs to be done.

They want “an administrative network” to support St Barts and St Martin, involving not only connections with Europe but the creation of an honorary consulate, explains Lusa.

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