LONDON, Sept 19 — The British Virgin Islands was under curfew today as the Caribbean archipelago, still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, braced for another megastorm.
“While Hurricane Maria may not be as strong as Hurricane Irma, our present reality is also very different,” Orlando Smith, the premier of the self-governing British territory, warned in a statement.
“Effects such as potential flooding and high winds that can turn debris into dangerous projectiles can have a greater and more treacherous impact for us.
“Many residents are still displaced, homes are not fully secured and our natural protections have had severe damage due to the passage of Hurricane Irma.
“Our islands are extremely vulnerable right now.”
Maria hit Dominica today as a Category Five hurricane, the highest on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale. It was later downgraded to an “extremely dangerous” Category Four, although the US National Hurricane Centre warned it could strengthen again.
With officials predicting it would hit the British Virgin Islands today or tomorrow, authorities there imposed a curfew from 6:00pm (0600 in Malaysia) yesterday and urged residents to stay indoors until it passed.
More than 100 high-risk prisoners escaped on the islands after a prison breach during Hurricane Irma, prompting London to send Royal Marines and police officers to help restore law and order.
The prisoners have since all been recaptured.
More than 1,300 British troops have been deployed to the region since Irma, and London has also sent food, shelter kits and buckets for clean water.
Another 42 military personnel have been stationed on the British Virgin Islands ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Maria.
The Foreign Office has warned against any travel to the archipelago.
A military reconnaissance team is also on standby to go to neighbouring Montserrat and assess any potential needs if the storm hits there later today.
In addition to government aid, the British Virgin Islands has received help from a group of sailors from Puerto Rico, who have long been visiting the territory on holiday and wanted to help.
The sailors are among a group of thousands who regularly visit the BVI, dubbed the Puerto Rican Navy.
They have dropped off eight containers of food, water and building supplies, according to a BVI government statement.
“Many people, children, humble people, business people, all came with what they could bring to make sure that people in the BVI were taken care of,” organiser Alicia Carazo said in the statement.
Irma, also a Category 5 hurricane, left around 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the death toll stood at 50 yesterday. — AFP