UK aid teams arrive to help Dominica hurricane victims

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UK aid teams have arrived in Hurricane Maria-hit Dominica, as the focus shifts to making sure affected Caribbean islands have the supplies they need, the International Development Secretary has said.

Claiming the lives of at least 19 people so far, with many others missing, Maria barrelled across the Caribbean in recent days, unleashing devastation on islands in its path.

Priti Patel called the second major hurricane to impact the region in just two weeks an "unprecedented crisis", as a Department for International Development (DfID) team arrived on Dominica on Wednesday to assess the damage.

"Our focus now is on making sure the islands affected have the right supplies in the right places to deal with the aftermath of the latest hurricane," she said.

Initial reports from DfID teams in Dominica suggest widespread destruction, with 90% of buildings damaged or destroyed by the storm which made landfall with the island on Monday.

Also hitting Puerto Rico, it was the strongest storm in more than 80 years to sweep across the country, with Maria flattening homes and plunging the entire island into darkness after taking down power lines.

Widespread flooding has also been reported, with some streets turned into raging rivers by the deluge of rain water.

The British Virgin Islands, which suffered the wrath of Irma resulting in widespread devastation, was "spared the worst" of Maria and initial assessments suggest fresh damage was relatively low, said the governor Gus Jaspert.

"We had high winds, we had a bit of flooding, and we had bit of a storm surge that knocked out some of the roads - but that thankfully we have been spared the worst", he said.

"We are very mindful that others and colleagues in the region felt its full force and our thoughts are very much with them at the moment."

DfID said another UK aid team has also travelled to Montserrat, another British overseas territory, to assess the impact on the island - but that initial reports suggest the damage to buildings is not extensive.

Work to prepare the overseas territory Anguilla for the impact of Hurricane Maria also proved hugely successful in preventing further damage to infrastructure, DfID said.

Two tonnes of corrugated iron was provided to bolster hospital and police stations roofs. Food, tarpaulins, hygiene and shelter kits were also distributed on the island by the Red Cross.

Vital supplies, including food, bottled water and shelters, were also delivered to the Turks and Caicos Islands ahead of Maria's arrival, while damage assessments will take place after the hurricane hits.

So far the government has pledged more than £57 million towards the disaster relief.

A Red Cross appeal, boosted by DfID's aid match scheme doubling all public UK donations, has seen more than £2 million raised to date.

Ms Patel said: "The British public has once again shown its overwhelming generosity in a time of crisis by helping out the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

"This money will ensure food, water and shelter goes directly to those who need it most on the worst hit islands."

More than 75 tonnes of DfID aid is being brought into the region - which includes food, water, 3,000 shelter kits, more than 5,000 solar lanterns and 10,000 buckets.

Another 60 tonnes is steaming towards the Caribbean on board HMS Ocean - due to arrive in the region on Friday.

Mr Jaspert said the ship and her supplies will allow them to "turbocharge" their ongoing recovery and repair efforts.