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Hurricane Irma exposes racial tensions on smashed St. Martin

In the chaotic days after Hurricane Irma smashed St. Martin, the storm also exposed simmering racial tensions on the island’s French territory, with some black and mixed-race residents complaining that white tourists were given priority during the evacuation.

It was the type of anger that has long plagued France’s far-flung former colonies — especially its Caribbean territories, where most of the population identifies as black and is poorer than the white minority.

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Johana Soudiagom was disturbed to find herself among a tiny handful of non-whites evacuated by boat to nearby Guadeloupe after Irma devastated the island.

“It’s selective. Excuse me, but we saw only mainlanders,” she told Guadeloupe 1ere television, visibly shaken. “That’s a way of saying, ‘I’m sorry, only whites. There are only whites on the boat.'”

It’s common practice for tourists to be evacuated first from disaster zones for practical reasons, as they are staying in hotels and not in their homes and tend to have fewer resources such as food and vehicles. The French prime minister insisted Monday that the only people being prioritized were the most vulnerable.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said he understood islanders’ frustration with the government response but blamed part of the controversy on their “emotional shock, an impact that’s extremely hard psychologically.”

Soudiagom and other witnesses told Guadeloupe 1ere that the boat they took Friday carried tourists, including Americans, to safety but left many St. Martin residents behind, including needy mothers and children.

On Monday, France’s Representative Council of Black Associations asked the government for a parliamentary inquiry, citing concerns that those who were evacuated were not “necessarily the most in distress.”

“In my eyes, Irma is for the French Antilles what Hurricane Katrina was for Louisiana in the U.S. — an exposer of racial and social inequalities,” the group’s spokesman, Louis-Georges Tin, told The Associated Press.

Curated from: ABC News – Read More 

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