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Geneva/Panama, 7 September – The strongest Atlantic hurricane in more than a decade may have already battered an estimated 1.2 million people and poses a serious threat to millions more. At least 10 people are believed to have been killed.
Category 5 Hurricane Irma has cut a swath of destruction through half a dozen Caribbean nations and foreign territories in the past 24-36 hours. Reports from Barbuda suggest that nearly every building has been damaged or destroyed, while hundreds of thousands of people in Puerto Rico are without power according to authorities.
Further reports of destruction have been received from the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, as well as Saint Martin and St Barts (Saint Barthélemy), and St Kitts and Nevis.
“Our worst fears have played out in Barbuda and elsewhere,” said Walter Cotte, the Regional Director for the Americas for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Our volunteers have been active for a number of days helping communities prepare. We can’t yet assess the full extent of damage, but we expect that the Red Cross will be delivering extensive support to many thousands over the coming weeks and months.”
Irma is now bearing down on the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba where an estimated 26 million people could be exposed to destructive winds and torrential rain. In preparation for Irma’s passage, IFRC has released just under 600,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to bolster preparedness and early response efforts in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti. This complements earlier allocations of about 120,000 Swiss francs for Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis.
These funds will allow Red Cross volunteers and humanitarian workers already on the ground to help communities evacuate, prepare, and face the first hours after the storm has passed. Extensive preparedness efforts are also underway in Cuba.
In addition to financial resources, IFRC and National Red Cross Societies from the region, and from countries with territories in Irma’s path have deployed disaster response experts throughout the Caribbean, and have placed assets including medical emergency response units on standby.
“People across the Caribbean will need our help to withstand and then recover from this storm,” said Mr Cotte. “We’re already preparing what could become a massive and multi-country response effort. Red Cross was there before Irma hit, and will be there well after it has passed.”