Fifty police officers are flying to the UK’s overseas territories to help restore order after Hurricane Irma, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says.
The situation across the Caribbean is “very grim indeed”, he said, following an emergency government meeting.
But he said things are improving in the British Virgin Islands where 125 troops are helping to tackle looting.
He added that criticism of the UK government’s response to the disaster was “completely wrong”.
Earlier Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon dismissed complaints that the UK’s response was “found wanting” and that it was slower than France and the Netherlands.
Mr Johnson said: “There’s an unprecedented effort going on by the UK to meet what has been an unprecedented catastrophe in that part of the Caribbean.”
He said that UK military ship RFA Mounts Bay had been in place to help bring aid and supplies to the region during hurricane season.
He added: “Other countries have actually been asking us for help, including the French.”
Some 500 UK troops have been sent to Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, and British Virgin Islands (BVI).
British overseas territories are self-governing but rely on the UK for protection from natural disasters.
Charlotte Grayson whose father and siblings live on Tortola, in the BVI, said the government response was “almost invisible”.
“Looting has been rife and he has struggled to obtain more basic supplies for my family,” she told the BBC.
What has happened in British territories?
- Anguilla: Hit by the full blast of the hurricane on Wednesday. At least one death reported.
- British Virgin Islands: At least five people have died. Expected to require extensive humanitarian assistance.
- Montserrat: “Swiped” by Irma but suffered less serious damage.
- Turks and Caicos: Battered by the hurricane on Thursday night, with roofs ripped off, streets flooded, utility poles snapped and a widespread black-out on the main island of Grand Turk.
At the scene: ‘Asleep at sundown, awake at daybreak’
By Laura Bicker and Paul Blake, on Tortola, BVI
At the mansion of the BVI’s governor, British soldiers are working to establish satellite communications with the outside world, while Brigadier John Ridge was liaising with Governor Gus Jaspert about what operations needed to be prioritised.
At a local police station, we are told, British army commandos are working with officers to try and re-establish control after reports of looting. For his part, the governor has imposed an overnight curfew to keep criminality at bay.
A drive back to the airport revealed further damage. With trees uprooted, another fear is that rain could result in land erosion.
Back inside the airport arrivals lounge, UK soldiers spent Saturday night sleeping on the luggage carousel and on benches.
Asleep just after sundown and awake at daybreak on Sunday, they will need the rest for the work ahead of them.
That task could become taller in the coming days as food, petrol and cash shortages may lead to desperation.
- Read more: ‘British Virgin Islands look like a bomb site’
Ross and Lesley McEwan, who are in their 60s, from Cambourne, Cambridgeshire, are currently trapped on the Dutch part of the island of St Martin with eight other Britons.
Their daughter Kirsty Shephard has criticised the UK government for their lack of response.
She said: “All US and Canadian citizens were flown off the island yesterday but no British citizens were allowed to leave, after being taken to the airport and queuing for four hours for the evacuation plane, as there has been no communication between the Foreign Office and the island.
“The only planes coming in are military planes or specially chartered evacuation planes. Without an official evacuation in place it could be weeks before they can find a way off themselves.”
An FCO spokeswoman said that British nationals should follow the advice of authorities on non-British territories.
She added the UK was in contact with Dutch and US authorities and some vulnerable Britons had been evacuated by the Americans on Saturday.
She said that while the UK had been unable to get a consular team to the island, staff have been deployed to Curacao – another Dutch territory in the Caribbean – to help British nationals evacuated there from St Martin.
What the travel companies say
- Check with your travel provider and follow the advice of local authorities
- British Airways has cancelled all flights to Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos on Sunday and Monday
- Virgin Atlantic flights to Miami, Orlando, are “restricted” until Monday 11 September
- Services to Antigua and Havana, Cuba, are severely disrupted while Havana Airport is closed
- Thomas Cook said their customers in Cuba are “under the instruction of their authorities”. Varadero airport is currently closed until Tuesday and Havana Airport is closed until late Monday. The holiday company is not flying to Orlando until Tuesday at the earliest
- Some airlines have rescheduled flights and put on extra services