The British Virgin Islands have declared a state of emergency following Hurricane Irma after the storm struck British overseas territories causing mass devastation.
States of emergency have also been declared in the U.S. state of Florida, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and Cuba.
The hurricane, which left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean and has reportedly resulted in the deaths of at least 13 people, has been downgraded to a category four. Irma slowed from 185 mph to 175 mph peak winds on Thursday, but officials warn that it remains “extremely dangerous”.
The storm is projected to move towards Cuba and the Bahamas over the weekend.
— ⚓️ (@RavenHUWolf) September 6, 2017
The British Virgin Islands, a collection of 4o islands with a population of 30,000, has declared the state of emergency after the territory was pummelled earlier in the week.
A Virgin Islands resident said the hurricane was “terrifying” and had left “total devastation”, reports the BBC.
Resident Briton Emily Killhoury told the BBC her family bunkered down in a closet when the storm touched down in Tortola, BVI’s largest island which is home to approximately three-quarters of the islands’ population.
“Our downstairs doors suddenly blew out, which was terrifying. We just stayed hiding,” she said.
“We eventually emerged at about 7 pm to see total devastation. Everybody is shocked, but trying to be practical.”
The Angry winds of hurricane Irma in Anguilla British West Indies. Let our prayers be constant for our family and friends in the caribbean. pic.twitter.com/b8BIUUOt0G
— Lady A (@Lady_Alfaa) September 6, 2017
On Wednesday night, the hurricane had passed over the British overseas territories of Anguilla, Montserrat, and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and went on to batter the UK island territories of Turks and Caicos further north on Thursday evening.
Anguilla was hit by the full blast of the hurricane and there is one reported fatality. Monterserrat suffered less serious damage.
The low lying Turks and Caicos suffered floods and widespread blackouts as the force of the storm snapped utility poles in half on the Grand Turks.
Military relief continues to be sent to the Caribbean to support the British territories.
RFA (Royal Fleet Auxilliary) Mounts Bay, with 40 Royal Marines on board, is currently in the British Virgin Islands and on Thursday was assisting in Anguila. HMS Ocean is also on course to provide support, but will not reach the islands for two weeks.
Three planes will be flown out of RAF Brize Norton on Friday. According to Forces.net, an RAF C-17 is flying to the Caribbean to deliver rations, water, medical equipment, and other humanitarian aid. An RAF Voyager carrying nearly 200 Royal Marines is due to depart later on.
Prime Minister Theresa May has increased the relief fund for British overseas territories devastated by Hurricane Irma to from £12 million to £32 million.
The UK government has been criticised for the slow response, with Anguilla resident Josephine Gumbs-Conner saying the UK’s preparations for, and response to, the storm had been “sorely lacking”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the government should have “done what the French did in St Martin – who made sure that they had the military on the ground so that the response given is timely”.