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Hurricane Irma

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French territories ravaged by Irma, spared by Jose

A man walks on a street covered in debris after hurricane Irma hurricane passed on the French island of Saint-Martin, near Marigot on September 8, 2017. Martin BUREAU / AFP

Ravaged by Hurricane Irma, Saint Martin and Saint Barts escaped a further battering by Jose, which had "markedly less" of an impact on the two Caribbean islands than anticipated, France's meteorological agency said Sunday.

The agency had issued its highest warning, saying the Category 4 Hurricane Jose could become a "dangerous event of exceptional intensity".

"I'm relieved, almost happy," said Saint Martin resident Donald Tchuisseu, a plastic glass of gin in hand after toasting Jose's mercy with a friend.

Jose passed 135 kilometres (83 miles) north of Saint Barts, a haven for the rich and famous with celebrity visitors who have included Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The new hurricane was 125 kilometres from Saint Martin, 95 percent of which has already been ravaged by Hurricane Irma, which struck Wednesday and reached the Florida Keys early Sunday.

"Thanks to a passage which was further away than anticipated, the effects on the territory were markedly less," the meteorological agency said.

Many on St Martin, an island which is divided between France and The Netherlands and known for its vibrant nightlife and pristine beaches, had been concerned about how to shelter from the second storm.

Tchuisseu, in his thirties, was among those who headed for a school in the Saint Martin town of Grand-Case that was requisitioned as a temporary shelter from Jose.

Even though the danger has passed, he said he preferred to have company.

"It's good to have a drink, laugh and think about other things," Tchuisseu said. "The alternative is to stay home alone without power or water."

Two Hercules military transport planes will be used Sunday to evacuate tourists from the Dutch side of Saint Martin, called Sint Maarten, to Curacao, another Dutch island off of Venezuela, from where they will be flown home.

"After having evacuated patients, tourists are the highest priority," the Dutch navy said on Twitter.

The navy also said large-scale distribution of food and water would begin on Monday.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander was due to arrive on Curacao later Sunday, and may visit Sint Maarten if it is possible, the palace said.

'Is there still a life here?'

Hurricane Irma killed 12 people on the two islands while flattening thousands of buildings and leaving authorities struggling to control looting.

Residents are still grappling with dwindling supplies.

"We have only 12 bottles of water for a family of three to wash and drink," said Saint Barts resident Olivier Toussaint.

Irma ripped off roofs and uprooted trees, tossing cars and boats about like matchsticks.

Debris still clogs the streets, many homes are uninhabitable, communications are still down and tens of thousands are without food, water or power.

"Is there still a life here?" wondered Michelene Jean-Charles, a heavily pregnant 23-year-old resident.

An official posted in Saint Martin for six years who gave his name only as Nicolas is "angry with Paris and the way it's handling the crisis".

He said he had little information on what to do and "no information or addresses" for those made homeless. There were soldiers but with little equipment, he added.

On the southern Dutch half of the island, 70 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed, officials said.

The Dutch Red Cross said Sunday it had raised 1.5 million euros ($1.8 million) since Wednesday for Sint Maarten.

"Water pipes do not work, the stores are empty and there is no electricity in much of (Sint Maarten). It's a race against time to get the relief to the affected area," a spokesman told the Dutch news agency ANP.