Two hundred Royal Marines have arrived in the Caribbean to bring aid to UK overseas territories following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma.
Operation Ruman is tasked with distributing medical supplies and helping the territories recover following the category five storm.
The taskforce is currently in Barbados, which is the UK’s distribution hub.
On Friday, Britain’s response to the storm was “found wanting” by the heads of two parliamentary committees.
Many of those affected in the UK’s overseas territories in the Caribbean are still in “grave need”, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat and Labour MP Stephen Twigg said.
The deployment is part of a new £32m aid package, with the marines being accompanied by other service personnel, including engineers and disaster relief specialists.
Travelling on Royal Air Force C-17, Voyager and A400M aircraft, the military transported emergency shelter kits, rations and clean water to the region.
The UK military ship RFA Mounts Bay continues to provide support to the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
HMS Ocean has also been diverted from the Mediterranean and is now taking aid to the Caribbean in order to begin the task of rebuilding.
Police officers from the UK will also travel to Britain’s overseas territories in order to help local forces maintain law and order and find missing people.
Fifty-three police officers from 14 different forces are due to leave from RAF Brize Norton, working in co-operation with the Ministry of Defence.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the UK’s response had been “very good”.
Responding to the criticism, he highlighted the fact that RFA Mounts Bay had been in the region, adding “you had to deal with hurricane winds blowing through”.
“So it was difficult to deliver helicopters and deliver planes in the way the islanders would’ve wanted.”
Aid has also been supplied from the Department for International Development’s disaster response centre at Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire. This includes 10,000 aid buckets and 5,000 solar lanterns.
Irma has caused huge damage in the British overseas territories of Anguilla, the BVI and the Turks and Caicos islands further north.
British overseas territories are self-governing but rely on the UK for protection from natural disasters.
The storm has now reached Cuba and is expected to hit Florida and neighbouring states in the US over the weekend.
Echoing other criticism, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Friday that the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Caribbean was “entirely predictable” and the government “should have acted much faster”.
The BVI has declared a state of emergency and the territory’s governor Gus Jaspert has asked London for help amid reports of widespread devastation, with casualties and fatalities reported.
Mr Jaspert has warned another storm, Hurricane Jose, could reach the islands at the weekend
Sharon Flax-Brutus, director of tourism for the islands, said the damage was difficult to assess because communications were down, but that “many homes are without roofs, or have been diminished to merely foundations”.
Briton Emily Killhoury, who lives on Tortola in the BVI with her husband Michael and their two children, aged nine and 10, told the BBC her family bunkered down in a cupboard when the storm hit.
“Our downstairs doors suddenly blew out, which was terrifying. We just stayed hiding,” she said.
“We eventually emerged at about 7pm to see total devastation. Everybody is shocked, but trying to be practical.”
What has happened in British territories?
- Anguilla: Hit by the full blast of the hurricane on Wednesday. At least one death reported.
- British Virgin Islands: Reports of casualties and fatalities and extensive damage. Expected to require extensive humanitarian assistance. In a message the people of the BVI, governor Gus Jaspert said: “I come to you with a heavy heart after experiencing and observing the extent of devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.” Communications are difficult.
- Montserrat: “Swiped” by Irma but suffered less serious damage.
- Turks and Caicos: Battered by the hurricane on Thursday night, with roofs ripped off, streets flooded, utility poles snapped and a widespread black-out on the main island of Grand Turk.
What is the advice for travellers?
Thousands of British tourists are believed to be holidaying in the Caribbean, the travel association Abta said.
Britons in the region have been urged to follow evacuation orders, while states of emergency have been declared in Puerto Rico, Cuba and Florida, amid fears Miami could be struck directly by the hurricane.
Holiday firms are monitoring the situation and some have cancelled flights or offered to amend bookings for those due to travel to affected areas in the coming days.
The cruise company Carnival has cancelled four cruises bound for the Caribbean that were due to depart over the next few days – and warned that others may be cut short.
The Foreign Office urges people planning to go to the areas to follow the advice from the local authorities, including any evacuation orders, and check its official travel guidance before travelling.
It has set up a hotline for people affected by the disaster and for people whose loved ones may be affected on 020 7008 0000