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Hurricane Maria near British overseas territory, officials warn

Maria has claimed the lives of at least 19 people so far, with many others missing.

The eye of destructive Hurricane Maria which has unleashed devastation across the Caribbean is “now near” a British overseas territory, officials have warned.

Maria has barrelled across the region over the past few days, claiming the lives of at least 19 people so far, with many others missing.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the Turks and Caicos islands, with the eye of the category three storm “now near” the British overseas territory, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

With winds of up to 125mph predicted, the NHC said a “gradual weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours” as Hurricane Maria moves past the east of Turks and Caicos on Friday.

The NHC said a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large destructive waves” could raise water levels by up to 12ft in the overseas territory, with an isolated rainfall deluge of up to 20ins.

As the hurricane rolled through the region and up towards Turks and Caicos, it skirted past the overseas territories of the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, which were left devastated by Irma.

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Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall is flooded after Hurricane Maria dumped rain through a hole in the roof that Hurricane Irma tore off the previous week in Road Town, Tortola island, on the British Virgin Islands (Freeman Rogers/AP)

Brigadier John Ridge, second in command of the UK’s Joint Task Force, said early reports suggested little new damage had been caused by the second major hurricane in two weeks.

“It is a huge relief that those two islands have not suffered as we had suspected they might do, and more importantly planned for – we planned absolutely for the worst,” he said.

“But we are not counting our chickens.”

Mr Ridge said Turks and Caicos would probably be battered by category one or category two winds, with the threat of storm surge and flooding also a possibility.

“Our concern is to make sure we are completely ready for what we might need to do in Turks and Caicos,” he said.

He also revealed a team was sent into Montserrat on Thursday to review the damage.

With Maria having ravaged both Dominica and Puerto Rico, in the wake of the widespread destruction Mr Ridge said they had had a request for help in undertaking assessments.

Initial reports from Dominica suggest large-scale devastation, 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 – flattening homes and plunging the island into darkness after taking down power lines.

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Royal Marines deliver aid and provide support to the islanders of Jost Van Dkye, British Virgin Islands (Ministry of Defence/PA)

Mr Ridge said they took a “split team of half-civilian, half-military” into Dominica on a Chinook helicopter on Wednesday following the request.

“We have done that assessment and there are a number of nations involved in the response for it”, he said, adding that Maria has almost “completely destroyed their agricultural sector”.

He said the relief effort in Dominica was being co-ordinated by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) – with shelter, food and water being the critical aid requirement.

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

A Red Cross appeal, boosted by the Department for International Development’s (DfID) aid match scheme doubling all public UK donations, has seen more than £2 million raised so far.

More than 75 tonnes of DfID aid has already arrived in 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, which is due to arrive in the region on Friday.

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