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Britain rushed aid to the Caribbean today in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which has left at least 10 people dead.
Navy ship RFA Mounts Bay, with 40 marines on board, was sent to one of the worst-hit areas after ministers said the region needs “extensive humanitarian assistance”. The Government’s emergency Cobra committee is meeting to co-ordinate the response.
The island of Barbuda is said to be “barely habitable”. Officials say the French and Dutch island territories of St Martin/Sint Maarten have been devastated and the death toll is likely to rise. There has been no word from many islanders and tourists since the storm cut communications yesterday.
The area hit by the storm includes a number of British overseas territories, among them the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.
Thousands of British nationals and tourists are also believed to be on Anguilla, which was described as having suffered “critical” damage.
Asked if the Government was expecting British fatalities, Theresa May’s spokesman refused to speculate. He said: “We are working urgently to assess the damage.”
RFA Mounts Bay was sent to Anguilla to assess the situation. Today the Foreign Office was making £12 million available for the recovery effort.
There were fears for pregnant Briton Afiya Frank, 27, and sister Asha Frank, 29, who were in Barbuda but have not been heard from since Tuesday.
Their aunt, Ruth Bolton, told the BBC: “They were going to turn the electricity off on the island as a safety measure and they had boarded up their homes.”
There were also fears for London tourist Alex Woolfall, who was on St Martin. Yesterday he tweeted from his hotel: “May be my last tweet as power out and noise now apocalyptic.”
The storm, which has reached wind speeds of 180mph, was due to reach the British overseas territory of Turks and Caicos today. The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas will also be hit.
Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said there have been no individual requests for consular assistance.
But he added: “We all have concern that beneath the rubble … there will be cases that require our urgent personal response.”
He said extensive humanitarian assistance is now needed for the British territories and that the UK is working with France and Holland.
Responding to complaints in Anguilla that the UK Government had not done more in advance to help the island, Mrs May’s spokesperson said: “You can see from our response we are working as quickly as we possibly can to get help and support and assess the scale of the damage. The Prime Minister’s thoughts are obviously with everyone there and trying to deal with this.”
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