They survived Hurricane Irma. Now residents of the British Virgin Islands are worried about a new threat: prison inmates who escaped during the Category 5 storm.
British marines deployed from a nearby naval vessel have been hunting the inmates in recent days; and an unspecified number have already been recaptured. “The prison was breached, over 100 very serious prisoners escaped,” British Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan told Parliament Tuesday. The troops are being used to “protect the Governor and everything else about law and order” after Irma.
Following the escape of the prisoners, Duncan warned parliament Tuesday that there had been a “serious threat of the complete breakdown of law and order,” and explained that 47 police officers had been sent to the British Virgin Islands to keep the peace.
The Foreign Office said that some of the escaped prisoners, which included high-risk inmates, have been recaptured, but an unspecified number remain at large. A government memo seen by a press photographer Tuesday suggested that 40 high risk prisoners were still on the run. A night-time curfew has been imposed in the territory amid ongoing security concerns.
A British man living on one of the islands when Irma hit told his partner that he was carrying a knife after the prisoners escaped, saying “everything had gone feral.”
Duncan said nearly 1,000 marines from a British naval vessel that had been deployed in the Caribbean ahead of hurricane season, as well as 47 police officers, were working to restore security in the region. A further 250 British troops will be sent to assist relief operations in coming days.
“We have maintained and kept law and order on the BVI, which at one point, could have dramatically threatened the already unfortunate plight of those who had been hit by the hurricane,” Duncan said.
Britain Foreign Minister Boris Johnson arrived in the Caribbean Tuesday amid fierce criticism from residents and politicians for his government’s response to Irma, which killed nine people in Britain’s Caribbean territories. Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry said the government’s response had been “too little and too late.”
The affected territories, such as the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos, are self-governing but rely on the British government for defense, security, and protection against natural disasters. About 40 tonnes of British aid has arrived in the region so far, including over 2,500 shelter kits, authorities say.
British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged an extra £25 million ($33 million) in relief funding to the affected territories Wednesday, on top of the £32 million ($42 million) already committed, following criticism that the initial sum wasn’t enough. “At the end of the day, the £10-15 million ($13-20 million) which is going to come to us is not going to be sufficient,” said Anguilla’s chief minister Victor Banks.
Other European countries with territories in affected areas have also been criticized for a slow or insufficient response. French President Emmanuel Macron got a hostile reception Tuesday when he visited the island of Saint-Martin Tuesday, with locals jeering him as he toured the island. “Why are you here?” one woman yelled.