Irma: Caribbean overseas territories condemn UK Government's 'disgraceful' lack of help as Hurricane wreaks devastation

'We are supposed to have a relationship... we are supposed to be of the same type of people as Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands'

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 07 September 2017 08:30 BST
Hurricane Irma slammed into Caribbean islands after making landfall in Barbuda
Hurricane Irma slammed into Caribbean islands after making landfall in Barbuda (AFP)

The UK Government's response to Hurricane Irma in British overseas territories has been branded "absolutely pathetic."

Dorothea Hodge, the former UK EU representative for the government of the Caribbean island of Anguilla, said the UK should invest in long-term reconstruction to help the island community.

She told The Guardian: “It’s absolutely disgraceful that it has taken the whole day for Priti Patel to respond to the worst hurricane we have seen in a British territory since the 1920s."

Ms Patel said she had deployed three UK humanitarian experts and a British naval vessel with 40 Royal Marines and army engineers to the region.

Ms Hodge added: "Anguillans are all British nationals, as British as the Falklands or Gibraltar.

“In comparison to the French president who has set up an emergency fund, an emergency hotline and a reconstruction fund her response after the storm has passed is absolutely pathetic.”

Hurricane Irma batters St Martin, destroying live webcam feed

Her comments were echoed by Anguilla resident Josephine Gumbs-Connor, a barrister, who was also critical of the UK's response to the hurricane.

Ms Gumbs-Connor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I anticipated really that, given our relationship with the UK, they would have done in a similar fashion to our French neighbours on St Martin, where the French made sure they had military on the ground so the response given is timely, which makes it effective, which makes it helpful to our people.

"That is sorely lacking in this case. There was no echoing of chainsaws in Anguilla. We have huge trees and some of our oldest trees are still lying across the roads, roads are remaining impassable.

"While we understand that these things take time, I am very disappointed. We are supposed to have a relationship - we are overseas territories, we are supposed to be of the same type of people as Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands."

She said: "I am truly disappointed because we should not be in this position. If we are indeed supposed to be in a partnership, it should work very much more effectively than it is now."

Ms Hodge said the UK should follow France's example in responding to the hurricane.

She told The Guardian: “What is needed now is a commitment to an immediate effective humanitarian, response, food, water, shelter, emergency health care, and a long-term reconstruction fund to get the island back on its feet after this battering.”

The Caribbean island of Barbuda has been left as a scene of "total carnage," after Irma, and the tiny two-island nation will be seeking assistance from the international community to rebuild, its prime minister has said.

The storm is seen approaching Puerto Rico (Reuters)

Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told the BBC that about half of Barbuda's population of some 1,800 were homeless while nine out of 10 buildings had suffered some level of devastation, many of them total destruction.

"We flew into Barbuda only to see total carnage. It was easily one of the most emotionally painful experiences that I have had," Browne said in an interview on BBC Radio Four.

"Approximately 50 per cent of them [residents of Barbuda] are literally homeless at this time. They are bunking together, we are trying to get ... relief supplies to them first thing tomorrow morning," he said, adding that it would take months or years to restore some level of normalcy to the island.

Hurricane Irma is followed by Hurricane Jose (National Hurricane Centre)

Mr Browne later told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that at least 90 per cent of Barbuda's buildings appeared to be damaged, with some completely destroyed.

Describing the scene as "total carnage", he said: "It is easily one of the most emotionally painful experiences I have ever had."

Mr Browne said the recovery effort would take "an enormous amount of financial resources - I'm quite sure it will take months, possibly years, to restore some level of normality".

He said the bill was likely to come to around $100m (£77m) which was "definitely beyond our means", meaning the country will have to appeal to the international community for help.

"This is a disaster of unprecedented proportions and I think the international community ought to step in and to assist, and as a member of the Commonwealth we would appreciate any assistance that can be extended by the UK and other Commonwealth countries," he said.

Heavy-polluting countries should bear their share of the financial burden of severe weather caused by climate change, Mr Browne added.

Additional reporting by agencies

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