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Looters Add To Pain Of Hurricane Luis Leaves Trail Of Death, Destruction On Small Caribbean Island

Looters picked over this dazed and smashed Caribbean island Thursday in the aftermath of Hurricane Luis, a killer storm that razed entire shantytowns.

The storm left at least nine people dead on the island, and authorities said 100 more were missing. Probably half of the island’s buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Four others died elsewhere in the Caribbean as Luis pounded the region from late Monday to Wednesday. Buildings were destroyed, roads washed out and possessions scattered to the wind.

Telephones were out, and electricity and water also were cut in many islands. Tourist resorts, villas, casinos and yachts were smashed, and airports were closed on several islands.

But this island - the Dutch part is St. Maarten and the French area is St. Martin - appeared to have been hit hardest.

“It’s pretty much desperation,” said Jane Alexander, manager of the Food Center supermarket.

Looters picked over the remains at many stores.

“I grabbed it. I don’t know whether it works,” Jose Perez, 42, said as he trundled along St. Maarten’s highway with a grocery cart containing a Hitachi television set.

Bleak days lie ahead on the island of about 50,000 people, which is a popular cruise ship destination. Stores are nearly stripped of food. There is no power or tap water. More than 400 people are homeless. And a search for dozens of missing has not even begun.

Seven foreign journalists arrived at the island Thursday, the first to visit since the hurricane’s passage. They found widespread destruction, on a smaller scale but nearly equal to that left by Hurricane Andrew in South Florida in 1992.

The destruction was aggravated by the looting.

At the Rams warehouse supermarket, where the roof had been peeled off by the winds, at least 100 people could be seen plundering through the mountains of scattered merchandise.

“There is so much disaster, pain and suffering going on, and these people are making it worse. People are going overboard. This one guy this morning walked out with two cases of butter,” said Samantha McEvoy, 24, of Cape Town, South Africa.

“It has been horrible. People have been stealing with trucks. They were loading pick-ups, trucks, cars,” Alexander said.

“There were big stores left unattended. There are too few police,” said Vincent Abate, a physician from Wayne, N.J. “Most of the stuff is gone by now because they’ve been looting for the last 48 hours.”