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Irma relief operation 'well under way' as nearly 500 UK troops sent to Caribbean

Almost 500 British troops have been deployed to Caribbean islands ravaged by Hurricane Irma as Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon says the "relief operation is well under way".

But Britons in the path of the historic storm are being warned the "situation could deteriorate significantly" as it bears down on the US mainland.

Having regained its category five status overnight the hurricane has weakened to category three as it batters the north coast of Cuba.

But it is expected to regain its strength before hitting the Florida Keys on Sunday morning with 110 mph winds.

More than six million people in Florida and Georgia have been warned to leave their homes as the National Hurricane Centre warned the storm will bring "life-threatening" wind, with forecasters predicting storm surges of up to 15 ft.

Prime Minister Theresa May said work was taking place with US authorities to ensure British expats and tourists in Florida are protected as millions of locals and visitors flee to safety.

But the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said its ability to provide assistance to British citizens may be "extremely limited" and advised those affected to make their own contingency plans.

Following criticism of the Government's response to the disaster, ministers announced a £32 million relief package and pledged to double any public donations to the British Red Cross appeal for victims of Hurricane Irma, up to £3 million.

Following a meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee on Saturday, Sir Michael said: "The relief operation is now well under way."

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said there are just under 500 troops currently in the region, made up of marines, engineers, medics and specialists, including Army and RAF personnel.

Army soldiers have deployed from RFA Mounts Bay to the British Virgin Islands, while an A400 flight brought a further 50 marines.

An MoD spokesman said: "By the end of the evening there will be well over 100 marines and troops on the island, their priority will be establishing security and law and order before providing humanitarian assistance before the arrival of Hurricane Jose."

Irma claimed at least 20 lives, including at least four in the British Virgin Islands and one each on Anguilla and Barbuda, and left thousands of people homeless when it smashed into the region on Wednesday.

On returning to the UK, British tourists Thanai Caesar and Rochelle Fyffe spoke of their fear, having been in Antigua when Irma struck.

They said the walls of their boarded-up accommodation shook and they could hear things banging against the building outside.

"I feel like the hurricane itself was like being in a nightmare and it was just horrible because the outcome wasn't actually as bad as on other islands, so I don't even want to imagine what the other people felt," Ms Fyffe told Sky News at Gatwick Airport.

"We couldn't sleep the whole night because we were just scared," Ms Caesar added.

Shilan Ghafoor and Hari Jami, who had their honeymoon cut short, called for more help for locals braced for a second storm.

"To be honest it just makes you think because the people who are out there, they're so limited, they don't have enough resources, they don't have enough help and the hurricane has been three days now, four days, and now they're just picking up the pieces, they're anticipating another one," Mr Ghafoor told Sky News.

"I think a lot more should be done from us worldwide to help them out."

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