A fresh hurricane warning has been put in place for British overseas territories and parts of the Caribbean, just days after Irma unleashed devastation on the region.
Chris Austin, from the Department for International Development, who is now leading the UK’s response to the disaster, said the Joint Task Force is anticipating having to provide further short-term relief as Storm Maria edges closer.
He said they have already provided 75 tonnes of aid – including shelter kits, food and water – but that the 5,000 tarpaulins already distributed could be lost in the new weather front.
Hurricane debris on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands
“We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst, we need to demonstrate our own resilience because there could be some pretty sharp backwards steps I think,” he said.
It is currently predicted that the developing weather front could turn into a category three hurricane, with islands in its potential path having been issued a warning.
Brigadier John Ridge, the second in command of the Joint Task Force, said the UK’s military helicopters and aircraft in the region “will be kept out of harm’s way” in Barbados, where there is cover to protect them.
With Storm Maria set to arrive in Barbados on Sunday evening, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands could be affected the following day, he said, but stressed that it is not clear exactly which way it will track.
“It almost does not matter whether it tracks north of here or straight through here. If it tracks straight through here our problems are going to be the strength of the winds, if it tracks north of here we will be on the edge of the rain,” he said.
“Even with an hour of rain here at the moment, it runs straight off as there is no vegetation. Normally it would get absorbed by the leaves, that’s not there, and the storm drains which then divert the flow have all been blocked by the detritus that have run off the hills.”
Brig Ridge said additional reserve troops will be sent to the British Virgin Islands, but defended his decision to put troops potentially in harm’s way, stating it is a “risk worth taking” because it ensures “extra capacity” to deal with any immediate problems in the aftermath.
“Once the hurricane is through we can leap back into action, we have got the guys positioned in the right place so they are ready to react,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Maynard, commanding officer of 40 Commando Royal Marines, said the monitoring equipment to keep track of hurricanes is currently out of action on Tortola.
“We are relying on other overseas territories and the US to just monitor that, the threat is very real,” he added.
He said the problem is that because there is so much debris on the island following the damage caused by Irma, a category three hurricane is “just going to pick all that up, spin it around and throw it like ammunition everywhere”.
“It could cause potentially more casualties and fatalities than Irma did,” he added.
“Of course there is the threat to my own force as well. (But) we are not going anywhere, it would be immoral and the wrong thing to do to leave these people to face another tragedy without us alongside.”
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