Hurricane Maria: British overseas territories warned

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British troops clearing a road in BVIImage source, MOD
Image caption,
UK troops in BVI work to clear routes for ambulances, before Hurricane Maria hits

British overseas territories in the Caribbean are braced for Hurricane Maria, a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm.

Warnings were issued to Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as Maria brought winds of up to 160mph.

Maria has already claimed at least one life in Guadeloupe and is expected to hit the BVI on Tuesday evening.

Wreckage left by Hurricane Irma, which could be picked up by high winds, poses a threat to islanders.

The governor of the BVI, which was hit by Hurricane Irma 12 days ago, said they were "planning for the worst".

Gus Jaspert said the succession of the powerful storms was an "unprecedented event".

"Since Irma, we've been focused on recovery, ensuring security. We've switched track - to preparation. We've been securing shelters - many people are in homes that don't have a roof," the governor told Radio 4's Today programme.

BBC correspondent Jeremy Cooke, who is in the BVI, said people were "bracing for misery upon misery" with storm drains already blocked and buildings badly damaged.

The piles of wreckage left by Irma present another challenge, with every piece a potentially deadly missile once the winds increase, he added.

It was confirmed that one person was killed in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe by a falling tree, and two other are missing after their boat sank.

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
Pictures of Hurricane Maria's landfall on the French overseas island of Guadeloupe have emerged

Charlotte Grayson heard from her family who live on Tortola - part of the BVI - on Monday.

"They said I probably won't hear from them for the next 48 hours. They never got phone signal back in their home (since Irma)," said Charlotte, who lives in London.

"They were glad to already have the troops on the ground there. Everyone's trying to board up houses with plywood and tarpaulin, but they're worried about flooding."

Heidi Schumann, 44, who lives on Virgin Gorda in the BVI, said people were trying to get roofs on houses ahead of the storm.

"You are either patching it up properly with wood or you will have to wait until it passes," the mother-of-two said.

Ms Schumann, who used to work as a photojournalist, said: "It is so familiar for me, actually. I'm used to covering disasters but then leaving them and going home. Not having them at home."

Alison Strand, whose home in Anguilla in the Leeward Islands lost its roof during Irma, said: "We are sandbagging and preparing for flooding and the hurricane shutters are going up."

Image caption,
The Leeward Islands - where Maria will first strike - includes Antigua and Barbuda

Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said the Caribbean has suffered a "fortnight of just relentless catastrophe".

He told the Today programme the BVI were not expected to be hit as hard as they were during Irma, but added: "I'm afraid anything on top of what happened before is quite bad enough and just adds to the misery."

Maria made landfall on Dominica on Monday. The island's prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said its inhabitants had "lost all that money can buy".

The storm is expected to reach the BVI on Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

The US National Hurricane Center said the islands were at risk of being hit by a dangerous storm surge with destructive waves raising the water level by up to 9ft (2.7m).

Heavy rainfall of up to 20in (51cm) could bring "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" on the islands, it added.

How Maria is affecting UK flights

Airlines travelling through the Caribbean have advised passengers to check with their carriers before flying, but a number of airports and flights have already been effected:

  • Antigua airport closed on Monday and is expected to reopen on Wednesday, meaning a British Airways to Gatwick has been delayed. A Virgin Atlantic flight has also been delayed.
  • In the Dominican Republic, British Airways has scheduled an additional flight from Punta Cana to Gatwick on Wednesday, before the storm hits the island on Wednesday evening. Flights on Thursday have been cancelled. Thomson is also reviewing flights to the Dominican Republic.
  • In the Turks and Caicos a British Airways flight scheduled for Thursday will run as normal, but will not travel to the Provindenciales due to a likely airport closure.

British overseas territories, including Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands, are self-governing but rely on the UK government for protection against natural disasters.

More than 1,300 UK troops - already in the region for relief efforts following Irma - are staying put on the islands already affected, or in locations from where they will be able to deploy quickly.

An additional 42-strong military resilience team has been sent to the BVI prior to Maria.

HMS Ocean, which is carrying 60 tonnes of aid, is due to arrive in the region at the end of the week.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
This British soldier is seen giving supplies to a resident before Hurricane Maria hits BVI

Brig John Ridge, second-in-command of the UK military's Joint Task Force, which has been distributing aid, said the BVI had "already been weakened" and that the situation "doesn't look good".

"It kind of does not matter which way the hurricane goes, it is bad," he said. "They are either going to get the wind, which will pick up all the debris that is lying around."

What happened to British territories during Hurricane Irma?

  • Anguilla: Hit by the full blast of the hurricane on 6 September, killing one person.
  • British Virgin Islands: At least five people died and there was widespread damage to buildings and vegetation.
  • Montserrat: "Swiped" by Irma but suffered less serious damage.
  • Turks and Caicos: Battered by the hurricane on 7 September, with roofs ripped off, streets flooded, utility poles snapped and a widespread black-out on the main island of Grand Turk.

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