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(AFP) — The Turks and Caicos islands were bracing for Hurricane Irma on Thursday as the storm hurtled through the Caribbean with breakneck wind speeds.
The government of the British territory told residents and tourists to stay inside, as the Category 5 super storm approached.
“Conditions have begun to deteriorate over the Turks and Caicos. Residents in the Turks and Caicos islands should remain indoors until the all clear has been given,” the territory’s Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies announced.
It warned of extensive-to-severe flooding and coastal residents should move to higher ground to escape the expected storm surge.
A self-governing part of the United Kingdom, the Turks and Caicos are home to around 52,500 people. The archipelago of around 30 islands is situated about 1,000 km (600 miles) southeast of the United States.
Governor John Freeman said some low-lying islands were being evacuated.
“We have started to fill our shelters because a number of people who live in very low-lying areas are very vulnerable,” he told the BBC.
“We’ve also engaged in terms of getting people off the island who are here, North American tourists and others.”
Irma has already left scenes of devastation across other islands as it charges through the Caribbean with winds of up to 295 kilometres (183 miles) per hour.
According to the UK foreign office, there are currently 88,000 British citizens in the British Overseas Territories of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos islands.
The British Virgin Islands have also been hit and Anguilla in particular “received the hurricane’s full blast,” junior foreign minister Alan Duncan said Thursday, with an initial assessment finding severe damage.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said an initial aid package had been increased to £32 million (US$41.8 million).
The British fleet auxiliary Mounts Bay is already in the Caribbean region and will be joined by HMS Ocean to provide support after the storm, while troops and engineers are due to deploy with helicopters to help in the relief effort.