Hurricane Irma: Boris Johnson to visit British territories in Caribbean to survey devastation

Foreign Secretary to observe relief effort in British Virgin Islands and Anguila

Ellie Cullen
Tuesday 12 September 2017 08:19
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Aerial footage shows extent of damage to St Martin by Hurricane Irma

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is to fly to the Caribbean to visit the British territories devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Mr Johnson will spend “the coming days” there to see the UK's relief effort first-hand.

It is understood he will visit the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.

More than 700 troops and 50 police officers have already been sent to the British Virgin Islands after they were battered by the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

Recovery and aid efforts are underway to help those trying to piece together their lives from the ruins of the storm, which has since been downgraded from a hurricane.

Mr Johnson will meet with governors and other officials leading the recovery work, and will visit some of the most hard-hit places.

On Monday, he defended the Government's response to Hurricane Irma, amid claims the UK had done less to evacuate its citizens than other nations.

The Foreign Secretary said there had been an “unprecedented” effort to deal with the aftermath of the storm.

He said: “This is a very big consular crisis and I am confident we are doing everything we possibly can to help British nationals.”

The announcement of his visit comes after it was revealed that six deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with three in Georgia and one in South Carolina. At least 35 people were killed in the Caribbean.

Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday, after it had wreaked havoc along Florida's west coast, leaving an estimated 13 million - two-thirds of the state's population - without power.

In the British Virgin Islands, expats and tourists have spoken of their shock at the extent of the damage.

The partner of Briton Claudia Knight, who is stranded on the island of Tortola, carries a knife for protection as “everyone's turned feral”.

The 33-year-old runs an arts school on Tortola but managed to return to the UK with her toddler daughter before Hurricane Irma unleashed devastation.

Her marine engineer partner Leo Whitting, 38, stayed behind - but after seeing images of the awesome power of the storm Ms Knight said she thought he had died.

She told the Press Association: “I honestly thought he was dead. Before I was making jokes like 'make sure you park my car', it was quite light-hearted because we didn't know the storm was going to be that bad.

“The military is everywhere with machine guns. Everyone's turned feral and no-one's going out without being armed.

“You can't drive your car without a weapon, it's turning really nasty. Leo carries a knife with him.”

The prison was blown open by the storm meaning the inmates were free to roam, she added.

Ms Knight, originally from Dorset, has lived on the island for the past four years with Mr Whitting and the couple have a two-year-old daughter, Dottie.

She managed to speak with him thanks to “brief flickers of internet”, adding “he phoned me shortly after and said 'I'm alive - Tortola isn't'.

“He looked like he has been touching death's door, he's very pale and gaunt. My house and my business have been blown away and destroyed. Nothing is left standing on the island.

“But we love it, and we want to go out and rebuild eventually.”

Ms Knight said people were beginning to evacuate but you had to “pay through the nose” to be shuttled off, adding Mr Whitting would hopefully manage to leave in the next few days.

British DJ Laura Elliott, who also lives on Tortola, told how her fiance and two young children were left surrounded by a “collapsed jungle” and awaiting rescue.

Ms Elliott, 38, who was working abroad when the hurricane hit, had feared her family would run out of supplies before they were rescued, but has since told the Press Association that fiance Andrew, 10-month-old son Oscar, and 23-month-old daughter Isla are due to be evacuated to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

PA

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