Hurricane Irma: Boris Johnson to fly to battered Caribbean
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is to fly to the Caribbean later in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Irma.
The BBC understands he will visit the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, both British overseas territories which were badly damaged by the storm.
Mr Johnson will see the relief effort at first hand, visit affected communities and meet local governors.
His trip follows criticism from people living in the Caribbean and senior MPs that the UK’s response was too slow.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the British government “should have acted much faster”, and those with relatives in hurricane-hit areas have said they have not been supported.
But Mr Johnson said such criticism was “completely unjustified”.
“This is a very big consular crisis and I am confident we are doing everything we possibly can to help British nationals,” he said, on Monday.
He also said further support would soon be made available on top of the £32m already pledged to the relief fund.
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Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are among 14 British overseas territories which are all self-governing but the British government is responsible for their defence and security with a duty to protect them from natural disasters.
Anguilla suffered extensive damage, and at least one person has been confirmed dead.
Widespread damage was caused to the Turks and Caicos Islands, but the full extent of it is still unclear.
Similarly, there has been damage caused across the 50 British Virgin Islands, and five people are known to have died.
So far, some 700 UK troops, 50 police and over 20 tonnes of aid have been sent to the Caribbean islands devastated by last week’s hurricane – the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade.
In Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and BVI, there is a military presence 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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, thousands of stranded holidaymakers in Florida – also badly hit – are due to start arriving in the UK on Wednesday.
Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday, after it had wreaked havoc along Florida’s west coast.
Most of the state is without power, curtailing travel in and out. As such, travel operator TUI – which owns Thomson and First Choice – has cancelled all flights to Cuba for the next 10 days.