Trump to visit hurricane-hit Florida as agents probe nursing home deaths

Florida residents clean up as floodwaters from Hurricane Irma recede. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2017

Trump to visit hurricane-hit Florida as agents probe nursing home deaths

MIAMI: President Donald Trump is to visit storm-ravaged Florida on Thursday as authorities investigate the deaths of eight residents of a nursing home that lost power when Hurricane Irma whipped through the region.
The deaths brought the total number of storm-related fatalities in Florida to 20, and illustrate the urgency of restoring electricity to millions of people across the southern state.
Trump and his wife Melania will head to the city of Fort Myers, where they will be briefed on hurricane recovery efforts along with Vice President Mike Pence, the White House said.
The three will then head to nearby Naples to visit with hurricane victims.
Both cities are on Florida’s west coast, far from Trump’s swank Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, on the state’s east coast.
The visit comes as Florida residents who evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma trickle back home, and as tens of thousands of utility company workers, many from out of state, work around the clock to restore power to millions of customers.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was “absolutely heartbroken” on Wednesday to learn of the deaths of the elderly residents at a retirement home in Hollywood, north of Miami.
Around 115 of the nursing home residents were evacuated after a nearby hospital began receiving patients suffering from heat-related problems as there was no air conditioning due to power outages.
Three of those who died were in their nineties, including 99-year-old Albertina Vega. The youngest was 70, according to the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office.
“We believe at this time they (the deaths) may be related to the loss of power in the storm,” Hollywood police chief Tomas Sanchez told a news conference.
Scott vowed to “aggressively demand answers” on how this happened. “This situation is unfathomable,” he fumed in a statement.
The governor said he ordered a probe by state authorities, while Sanchez confirmed a criminal investigation has been launched.
Memorial Regional Hospital began receiving patients early on Wednesday, said Dr. Randy Katz, medical director of the hospital’s emergency department.
“(We) quickly identified some issues inside the facility with fire rescue and immediately evacuated the building,” Katz said.
He said most of the patients admitted to hospital have been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related problems.
Florida residents that heeded warnings to evacuate ahead of the storm faced lengthy traffic jams as they returned home after days in shelters or with friends or family.
Irma, which made landfall Sunday morning in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane, had triggered orders for more than six million people to flee to safety, one of the biggest evacuations in US history.
Some Florida Keys residents faced scenes of devastation as police lifted roadblocks on Tuesday and began allowing people to return to the string of islands off the state’s southern coast.
Daniel Drum, 67, already knew how bad it was because he rode out the storm in his two-story house on Cudjoe Key, where Irma made its first US landfall.
On Wednesday, he climbed down from what had been the upper floor of his home on a ladder, wearing only underwear and flip-flops because the wind blew away his clean clothes.
The first floor was a pile of rubble. The walls were gone, and only the pilings holding up the top floor remained.
“I had two baskets full of clean laundry and they just took to the air. And my pants, my phone, my wallet are all gone. As well as everything else I can think of,” he said.
At least a quarter of the homes in the Keys were destroyed, federal emergency management officials said, and 65 percent suffered some damage.
The storm also cut off power, water and sewage to the islands, home to some 70,000 people.
In the Caribbean, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the island of Saint Barts on Wednesday, a day after traveling to the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin.
France, Britain and the Netherlands have been criticized for the pace of relief efforts for their overseas territories ravaged by the storm.
Islanders have complained of a breakdown in law and order and widespread shortages of food, water and electricity.
Touring Saint Martin, Macron was at times jeered by people waiting for aid supplies or hoping to catch flights to France to escape the devastation across the island.
Macron pledged on Saint Barts, population 9,000, that an emergency relief fund for victims would be operational by Monday.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla on Wednesday and pledged “absolute commitment” to Britons there.
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has also toured Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the island shared with France, meeting residents on Saba island, and was set to travel to Sint Eustatius, which suffered severe damage.


Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

Updated 14 August 2020

Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

  • Prime Minister Timothy Harris emphasizes ‘enduring appeal’ of Saint Kitts and Nevis amid a global pandemic
  • Dual-island nation has announced a discount in the amount needed to secure citizenship for a limited period

DUBAI: After the turmoil and tedium of the last few months, a distant island getaway is probably what tops most people’s dreams. One Caribbean destination, surrounded by sparkling sand and turquoise waters, is intent on using its natural landscapes to nurse people back to normality — and build commercial bridges to the Middle East in the process.

In an interview via Zoom with Arab News, Prime Minister Timothy Harris noted with satisfaction that his country was home to a number of individuals from the Middle East, including the GCC countries. But his ambitions are clearly much bigger than that.

Harris, who was re-elected to a second term as prime minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on June 5, says he will continue to deepen the dual-island nation’s relations with the GCC region.

“We intend to open an embassy soon in the UAE,” he told Arab News. “This will further cement our ties to the Middle East region and to the UAE specifically.”

With their relative affluence and large expatriate populations, GCC countries constitute a key part of the catchment area of the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program of St. Kitts and Nevis.

“What the CBI program offers applicants is the advantage of mobility,” said Harris, adding: “In the context of St. Kitts and Nevis, it also offers citizenship in a nation that is democratic, peaceful and safe.”

(Full Arab News interview with Prime Minister Timothy Harris)

His government is also counting on efficient processing of citizenship applications to help it stand out in a crowded field.

Amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, some, particularly for those hailing from troubled countries in the Middle East, see a silver lining: A discount on the citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Harris has announced a time-limited reduction in the contribution required to secure citizenship. The government of St. Kitts and Nevis has decided to temporarily reduce the family minimum contribution by $45,000 to $150,000. However, the minimum contribution for a single applicant remains at $150,000.

Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. (Supplied)
A single applicant seeking economic citizenship normally contributes at least $150,000, while the cost for a family of up to four comes to $195,000. But from July 7 until the end of this year, families of up to four people will be able to secure citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis at the discounted rate.
The decision was influenced by the global fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts of the Harris government to find creative ways to stabilize the economy and put it back on the path to the growth rates it had enjoyed over five years preceding the pandemic.

Harris is upfront about his objectives. “This limited-time offer will provide the resources to help us successfully fight COVID-19 and enhance the safety nets for those who have lost their jobs or income as a consequence," he said.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's COVID-19 response)

“The CBI program is crucial to our growth and development. The effects of COVID-19 have also destabilized our economy. Without the CBI program we would have been in serious danger.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program grants citizenship to individuals of high net worth and their families, who get visa-free access to 156 countries, including EU member states and the UK.

Migrate World Ltd is one of the authorized representatives for the CBI program for the Middle East and Africa. Speaking to Arab News in May, Moe Alhaj, CEO of Migrate World Ltd, said: “There’s been a notable increase — of around 40 percent — in applicants from the Arab world during the pandemic.

“The individuals that the program caters to in the Middle East are largely from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.” The CBI program does not accept applicants from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's citizenship program)

During the pandemic, CBI officials say, the program has witnessed a 40 percent increase in applicants from families hailing from the Arab world. Arab News could not independently verify the figure.

What is undeniable is that while the coronavirus crisis continues to ravage countries across the globe, particularly those in North America, the Caribbean region has largely been spared high caseloads.

The total population of residents in the Caribbean is just under 45 million. As of July 27, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections stood at 91,907. The nations with the highest number of cases are the Dominican Republic with 64,156; French Guiana with 7,332; Haiti with 7,315 cases and Puerto Rico with 5,416. 

Aerial view of Black Rocks Beach on St. Kitts. (Supplied)

St. Kitts and Nevis had one of the lowest numbers. By May 19 all of the 16 cases on its two islands had recovered, although one new case was announced on July 4. There have been no deaths. The islands went into lockdown on March 31 when just eight cases had been declared. It was then extended until April 18 and then again to April 25.

“We began an aggressive public education campaign in our schools and workplaces, security forces and health-care workers early on,” Harris told Arab News. “As cases rose, we were at a high level of alertness and citizens and residents complied, so we were able to stop the spread efficiently.”

The CBI program was launched in St. Kitts and Nevis in 1984 as a way to assist the island’s economy, which had suffered due to the collapse of the sugar industry, and to stimulate foreign direct investment inflows.

FASTFACT

ETHNIC GROUPS

- 53,821 = Population of St. Kitts & Nevis

- 92.5% African

- 3% Mixed

- 2.1% White

- 1.5% East Indian

“Clearly, size does matter and being a small nation state with limited resources, we had to find unique ways of bringing in investment that would help the country thrive from year to year,” Harris told Arab News.

“While COVID-19 has placed the world under enormous strain, St. Kitts and Nevis’s record to date of zero hospitalizations and zero fatalities from the disease underlines the character and enduring appeal of our great country.”

With alluring beaches, laid back Caribbean lifestyle and faraway location, the offer is hard to refuse — if one’s pockets are deep enough.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor