Britain is sending hundreds of troops, ships, planes and helicopters to its islands battered by Hurricane Irma after it was criticized for being slow to send aid to territories in the storm’s path.
Britain has sent one ship, RFA Mount Bay, to Anguilla, and the Navy flagship HMS Ocean is on its way to the Caribbean with helicopters, Marines and engineers.
The HMS Ocean is leaving its NATO duties in the Mediterranean to head for the Caribbean – a journey that will take ten days to two weeks.
Two military transport planes loaded with ‘personnel, supplies and recovery equipment’ set off for the Caribbean this morning – with one heading for the British Virgin Islands.
Meanwhile, the Dutch already have two Navy ships in St Martin delivering food and water to those affected by the storm.
Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has said that ‘we are going to make sure the islands get the help they need’ after the UK Government was slammed over its ‘pathetic’ response to the storm.
The UK Government was slammed this week over its ‘pathetic’ response to Hurricane Irma in hitting its territories in the British Virgin Islands
Britain has already sent one ship, RFA Mount Bay, to Anguilla, and the HMS Ocean is on its way to the Caribbean with helicopters, Marines and engineers
HMS Ocean is leaving its NATO duties in the Mediterranean to head for the Caribbean, a journey that will take ten days to two weeks
A Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft is loaded with supplies at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire in preparation for its flight to the Caribbean
Prime Minister Theresa May upped Britain’s Hurricane Irma aid package on Thursday to £32million.
Fallon said the UK will also be sending ‘a task group of several hundred troops, marines, engineers and additional helicopters.’
Prime Minister Theresa May upped Britain’s Hurricane Irma aid package on Thursday to £32million
Two Puma helicopters will fly to the worst-hit British territory, Anguilla, as soon as a functioning landing strip is found.
Irma has hit the British territories Anguilla, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos.
On the ground, governor Gus Jaspert said he had declared a state of emergency, indicating there had reports of both injuries and deaths during the storm.
‘Apart from structural damage, there have sadly been reports of casualties and fatalities,’ he said in a recorded message to residents.
The category five storm is continuing to tear a deadly trail through the Caribbean and has already left thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said four people were confirmed dead and about 50 injured on the French side of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control. The toll could rise because rescue teams had yet to get a complete look at the damage.
At least four people were killed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and officials said they expected to find more bodies. Authorities described the damage as catastrophic and said crews were struggling to reopen roads and restore power.
Three more deaths were reported on the British island of Anguilla, independent Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.
The UK has already sent one ship, RFA Mount Bay, to Anguilla, which took the full force of the storm
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 100,000 food rations
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he would go to the islands as soon as the weather permits it. Saying he was ‘grief-stricken,’ Macron called for concerted efforts to tackle global warming to prevent similar natural disasters.
Two Dutch navy ships were in St. Martin with vital supplies. And two Dutch military aircraft were being sent the island of Curacao and on to St. Martin to deliver food and water intended to last the population of 40,000 five days.
The aircraft were carrying 100 extra troops to deliver aid, repair infrastructure and restore order.
The Foreign Office on Thursday insisted Britain was doing its ‘utmost’ to bring urgent assistance after the category five storm caused devastation in the Caribbean.
A meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee to coordinate the response was chaired on Thursday by Mr Fallon after Mrs May spoke about it with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Speaking after a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee, the Prime Minister said: ‘No-one can fail to be affected by the absolutely desperate plight of people in the Caribbean who have been hit by Hurricane Irma and my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected, particularly with British nationals in the overseas territories of Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.
Hurricane Irma slams into Sint Maarten as Caribbean islands were hit by the weather system
‘It has been devastating, it is the most powerful storm to hit the Atlantic, it has brought devastation in its wake, it has destroyed buildings and infrastructure, but it has had such an impact on people’s lives because it has seen people’s livelihoods completely destroyed and, of course, some people are missing and some will have lost loved ones.’
But the money towards the relief effort came after Dorothea Hodge, the former UK representative to Anguilla, criticised Britain’s response as ‘absolutely disgraceful’.
Dorothea Hodge, the former UK representative to Anguilla, criticised Britain’s response as ‘absolutely disgraceful’
She said the UK should follow France in committing to an emergency fund and a reconstruction plan after the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in history.
Ms Hodge told the Guardian: ‘It’s absolutely disgraceful that it has taken the whole day for Priti Patel to respond to the worst hurricane we have seen in a British territory since the 1920s.
‘In comparison to the French president who has set up an emergency fund, an emergency hotline and a reconstruction fund her response after the storm has passed is absolutely pathetic.’
Yesterday, international development secretary Ms Patel said three UK humanitarian experts and a British naval ship would be sent to the region.
But Josephine Gumbs-Connor, who is a lawyer on British-owned Anguilla, told BBC Radio 4 on Thursday that the response from the UK has been ‘sorely lacking’.
She said Anguilla was ‘utterly devastated’ and has been left ‘in absolute pieces’, adding: ‘Hurricane Irma, was off the charts in terms of strength.
The shocking aftermath of the Category 5 hurricane on Sint Maarten in the Caribbean today
‘It has certainly cut a swathe through Anguilla that has left us in absolute pieces. Our police service has suffered roof damage, so has our court house, so has our prisons, so has the hospital.
‘Just in terms of essential services alone we are clearly in limping position. When you look at our island at the moment you would think that it just suffered nuclear bomb devastation.’
Josephine Gumbs-Connor, who is a lawyer on British-owned Anguilla, said the response from the UK has been ‘sorely lacking’
Discussing the British response, she said: ‘While we understand that these things take time, I personally am very disappointed. We are supposed to be the same status as Gibraltar or the Falkland Island.
‘I’m am truly disappointed. If we are indeed supposed to be in a partnership then it should work far more effectively than it is doing now.’
Today, delivering an urgent statement on the disaster, Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan told MPs that £12 million had been made immediately through its ‘rapid response mechanism for disaster relief and recovery’.
Sir Alan said the Government’s focus was on ‘everybody’, not just tourists in the Caribbean.
‘We really have complete overall concern particularly for our overseas territories which are affected and to that end we have £12 million immediately available through our rapid response mechanism for disaster relief and recovery.’
He said the Department for International Development (Dfid) and the Foreign Office were on ‘full alert’ and doing their ‘utmost’ with a ‘great wealth of expertise to deploy on this’.
‘We are pulling out all the stops to make sure that we can do our utmost to bring urgent assistance, once we, with the professionalism Dfid has, does the assessment to make sure we know who are in greatest need and then we can use our adeptness and flexibility urgently to address those who most need our help.’
A man surveys the wreckage on his property after the passing of Irma in St. John’s, Antigua
Asked if the Government was expecting any British fatalities, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘We are working urgently to assess the damage and precisely what has happened. But you wouldn’t expect me to speculate on whether or not there are British fatalities.’
Downing Street said that the Royal Navy’s RFA Mounts Bay is also in the region.
Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan talks about Irma in the House of Commons today
Mrs May and Mr Macron on Thursday agreed both countries would work together to help deal with the devastation caused by the hurricane, and Mrs May told the president that advisers from the Department for International Development (DfID) have been sent to impacted areas.
The PM’s spokesman told a Westminster briefing: ‘The Prime Minister called the French President Emmanuel Macron this morning to discuss our response to Hurricane Irma.
‘They agreed the devastation it had wreaked was terrible, with unconfirmed reports emerging of a number of fatalities.
‘The Prime Minister updated the French President on our response, noting that DFID humanitarian advisers had already deployed to the region to conduct damage assessments and provide humanitarian support, and RFA Mounts Bay was also in the area.
‘They agreed to cooperate closely, including with the Dutch, to understand the extent of the damage and to coordinate our relief efforts.’
On Wednesday, Ms Patel said Britain has taken ‘swift action’ to respond to the crisis.
She added: ‘We have deployed three UK aid humanitarian experts to the region to help coordinate the response, and positioned a British naval ship with 40 Royal Marines, Army Engineers, and vehicles, tents and facilities to purify water on board.
‘Our staff are on standby, both in the UK and at post, to support any British people affected. We urge British Nationals in the affected area to closely monitor and follow Foreign Office and local travel advice.’
Sir Alan said the Government’s focus was on ‘everybody’, not just tourists in the Caribbean