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Boris Johnson flies to Caribbean amid storm of criticism over UK response – The Guardian

Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, has bowed to political pressure to fly to the Caribbean to visit the British territories devastated by Hurricane Irma amid continuing criticism of the government’s response to the disaster.

The Foreign Office said Johnson would spend “the coming days” in the Caribbean to see UK’s relief effort first-hand, less than a day after Labour called for him or the prime minister to visit the region.

He is expected to visit the British Virgin Islands [BVI] and Anguilla, two of the British dependencies worst hit by Irma. On Monday, Kate Osamor, the shadow development secretary, urged Johnson or Theresa May to visit survivors on the islands, “look them in the eye and put their concerns at the centre of her government’s response plan”.

Johnson visit will follow a trip by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to St Martin, the Franco-Dutch island that neighbours Anguilla to the south. Britons stranded in the Caribbean have contrasted the French government preparations and quick response to Irma with the way the UK government has tackled the aid effort.

Macron was due to touch down in St Martin as Foreign Office confirmed Johnson’s plans to visit the Caribbean.

The foreign secretary’s visit also came after billionaire Richard Branson called for a “Marshall Plan” to help the Caribbean recover from the storm.

Writing in a blog post, Branson, who weathered the storm on his private island of Necker, said: “We must get more help to the islands to rebuild homes and infrastructure and restore power, clean water and food supplies.”

Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction – video report

More than 700 British troops and 50 police officers have been sent to the British Virgin Islands after they were battered by the most powerful storm recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

Johnson will meet with governors and other officials leading the recovery work, and will visit some of the worst affected areas.

On Monday, he defended the government’s response against claims the UK had done less to evacuate its citizens than other nations. He said: “This is a very big consular crisis and I am confident we are doing everything we possibly can to help British nationals.”
In the British Virgin Islands, expats and tourists have spoken of their shock at the extent of the damage. Briton Claudia Knight, who returned to the UK before Irma hit,said her partner, who is still on the island of Tortola, carries a knife for protection as “it’s turning really nasty”.

The 33-year-old Knight runs an arts school on Tortola but managed to return to the UK with her two-year-old daughter Dottie before Irma unleashed devastation.

Her partner, Leo Whitting, 38, a marine engineer, stayed behind – but after seeing images of the awesome power of the storm Knight said she thought he had died.

She told the Press Association: “I honestly thought he was dead. Before I was making jokes like ‘make sure you park my car’, it was quite light-hearted because we didn’t know the storm was going to be that bad.

“The military is everywhere with machine guns. Everyone’s turned feral and no one’s going out without being armed. You can’t drive your car without a weapon, it’s turning really nasty. Leo carries a knife with him.”

The prison on the island was blown open by the storm, leaving inmates free to roam, she added.

Knight, originally from Dorset, has lived on the island for the past four years. She managed to speak with Whiting thanks to “brief flickers of internet”, adding: “He phoned me shortly after and said: ‘I’m alive – Tortola isn’t.’

“He looked like he has been touching death’s door, he’s very pale and gaunt. My house and my business have been blown away and destroyed. Nothing is left standing on the island. But we love it, and we want to go out and rebuild eventually.”

Knight said people were beginning to evacuate but you had to “pay through the nose” to be shuttled off, adding Whitting would hopefully manage to leave in the next few days.

Boris Johnson flies to Caribbean amid storm of criticism over UK response – The Guardian

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