UK

Hurricane Irma: UK to add 'further support' to £32m relief fund

Soldiers in Tortola in the British Virgin Isles where homes are devastated Image copyright PA
Image caption Soldiers arrive in Tortola in the British Virgin Isles, where homes have been destroyed

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said "further support" for British overseas territories hit by Hurricane Irma would be announced within days.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, he said only £4m remained of a £32m relief fund.

It comes after senior MPs and residents of the Caribbean islands criticised the UK government's "too slow" response.

Meanwhile, thousands of stranded holidaymakers in Florida are due to start arriving in the UK on Wednesday.

Virgin Atlantic said at least five flights from Orlando, Miami and Atlanta airports were scheduled to arrive into London Gatwick and Manchester.

Thomas Cook and British Airways told the BBC they were reviewing flights.

At least 9,000 British passengers flying with Thomas Cook are stranded in Florida and 2,350 passengers are in Varadero, Cuba, the travel company said.

'Unprecedented catastrophe'

Some 700 UK troops, 50 police and over 20 tonnes of aid have been sent to the Caribbean islands devastated by the hurricane.

There is a military presence in Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and British Virgin Islands (BVI), amid reports of looting in some areas.

Another ship HMS Ocean has been deployed to provide aid to the Caribbean, the second since RFA Mounts Bay started helping in Anguilla on 7 September.

The territories are self-governing but the British government is responsible for their defence and security with a duty to protect them from natural disasters.

Mr Johnson told Today that the relief fund was "already being deployed".

He said: "You can see an unprecedented British effort to deal with what has been an unprecedented catastrophe for the region.

"Of the £32m we've earmarked, £28m has already been spent and we will be announcing further support later on, in the course of the next few days."

The government, which initially set the fund at £12m, is also matching public donations to the Hurricane Irma Red Cross appeal.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the British government "should have acted much faster", while those with relatives in hurricane-hit areas have said they are lacking support.

Scott Baker, whose daughter Amy Brown is stranded in St Martin, an island that comprises of the French territory of Saint-Martin and the Dutch section of Sint-Maarten, said he felt "totally abandoned" by the UK government.

"There's looting and shooting going on, the resort is unable to lock the doors," he told Today.

'Full force'

Mr Baker said the crisis helpline - set up for British nationals affected by the hurricane - was a "waste of time".

"They are handing out phone numbers which are either inaccurate or out of date, one instance was actually the Puerto Rican tourist agency which wasn't terribly helpful," he said.

Charlotte Grayson, from London, whose father and two 11-year-old siblings live in the badly-hit island of Tortola, said they were "struggling" to obtain basic supplies.

She only has intermittent contact with them, when her father cycles to the capital Road Town to get phone signal.

"They are all safe however my dad told me that the situation on the island is dire and the government response almost invisible," she told the BBC.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTortola resident Claire Chilton: "We had a mattress over our heads"

She described the aftermath as a "crisis on British soil", adding: "I have not heard about any government evacuation plans, which should surely be a priority.

"There is precious little I can do from here."

Communications are mostly still down in the British Virgin Islands where its premier, Orlando Smith, has called for a "comprehensive economic package for reconstruction" from the UK.

Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson has said most of the buildings and vegetation on Necker, which is among the 50 British Virgin Islands, had been destroyed or badly damaged by Hurricane Irma.

"We felt the full force of the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic Ocean. But we are very fortunate to have a strong cellar built into Necker's Great House," he wrote in a blog post from nearby Puerto Rico.

Image copyright Richard Branson
Image caption Sir Richard is taking stock after last week's storm

Hurricane Irma is due to hit the west coast of Florida in the US on Monday, and is later expected to weaken into a tropical storm.

Mr Johnson said criticism of the UK government's response to the hurricane was "completely unjustified" and said the presence of troops was having "a massive psychological effect" on morale.

On Sunday, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon dismissed complaints that the UK's response was "found wanting" and that it was slower than France and the Netherlands.

At least 28 people died after the hurricane cut across 10 Caribbean countries and territories, including five people in the British Virgin Islands and one each on Anguilla and Barbuda.

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