Dutch to give storm-hit isles 600 mln euros to rebuild

The island of Saint Martin, known as Sint Martin in Dutch, is split between The Netherlands and France

The Dutch government announced Friday it will release 617 million euros ($720 million) to help rebuild its Caribbean territories devastated by Hurricane Irma in September.

Most of the funds, some 550 million euros, will go to the Dutch part of Saint Martin -- the island split between the Netherlands and France -- where 70 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed.

Power lines were downed, trees uprooted and buildings torn apart when Irma whipped across the island as a rare Category Five storm, leaving a trail of damage across the Caribbean arcing as far as Florida. The hurricane also killed 124 people -- 15 of them on both sides of Saint Martin.

"It's really urgent that reconstruction should start as soon as possible," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Friday after his weekly cabinet meeting.

"We have decided that the Netherlands is prepared to give a maximum of 550 million euros... in the form of help," he said, adding it would be handed out in tranches and in collaboration with international organisations.

The interim local government of the island, known as Sint Martin in Dutch, will have to agree to certain terms including the setting up of a monitoring system to oversee the flow of funds.

A further 67 million euros will be given to the nearby islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius, the government said.

A political crisis erupted in Sint Maarten after local prime minister William Marlin refused to accept Dutch conditions for providing assistance, forcing the government to fall.

Elections are now due to be organised, but it remains unclear how or when they will be held, and Rutte said the "legal and practical" details, such as the state of the voting register, needed to be looked at.