Hurricane Irma - the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded - has killed 14 people and left thousands more with nothing as it tears its way across the Caribbean towards Florida.
Leaving huge swathes of devastation in its wake, the Category 5 storm has thrashed a string of islands with 180mph winds and pounding rain, flattening hospitals, airports and homes.
While the Caribbean’s white sandy beaches and luxury hotels conjure images of a celebrity paradise - with Donald Trump’s Saint Martin mansion and Richard Branson’s Necker Island among those areas affected and Johnny Depp and Mick Jagger also owning homes in the region - Irma’s path covers some of the world’s most impoverished communities.
Not only did the France-sized storm batter the Dominican Republic, where large chunks of the population live below the poverty line, but it brought flooding and damage to poverty-stricken Haiti, which was devastated by the deadly Hurricane Matthew less than a year ago.
Meanwhile, 90% of the dwellings on the island of Barbuda have been destroyed and power has been knocked out for much of Puerto Rico, with reports that it could be four months before it is fully restored.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW NEWS
A state of emergency has also been declared in the British Virgin Islands, with home, schools and hospitals seriously damaged by the huge storm.
The British government has now sent the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ocean to lead a group of helicopters, marines and engineers in the region amid fears for the safety of around 50,000 British citizens on various islands in the storm’s path.
According to forecasters, Irma is on track to hit Florida by Saturday or Sunday.
The hurricane, dubbed a “once-in-a-generation” storm for the state, comes just a week after Hurricane Harvey ravaged parts of the US, killing at least 60 people and causing as much as $180 billion of damage.
But with Hurricane Irma so far away from mainland UK, Brits are now asking what they can do to help those affected by the historic conditions.
Here are some of the charities battling to help those devastated by the deadly storm and information about how you can help.
British Red Cross
The British Red Cross has volunteers stationed in every country Hurricane Irma is expected to hit, with a “massive, multi-country relief and recovery effort” underway.
While teams of volunteers have already helped communities to prepare for the storm by gathering relief supplies, they are now offering food, clean water and emergency shelter to victims as the hurricane sweeps across the Caribbean towards Florida.
“Early reports out of places like Barbuda and Saint Martin suggest there has been pretty catastrophic damage to shelter,” David Foster, a disaster response officer for the charity, told HuffPost UK.
“The British Red Cross can provide emergency shelter kits and tool kits so people can do intermediate repairs to existing buildings and start to rebuild,” he added.
Search and rescue teams with the charity have also been recovering people from the rubble of collapsed buildings and providing first aid.
According to Foster, while many people are keen to offer items of clothing and food to help victims, cash donations are the most helpful contribution.
Not only does this allow charities to provide the most useful supplies to devastated communities, he said, but Oxfam often gives money to those who have lost their homes or possessions.
“Volunteers often hand out cash contributions so people can decided for their families what they need,” Foster explained. “It gives people who have been affected some agency over their lives.”
Oxfam is working to help communities in Haiti, with as many as 3 million people on the island set to be affected by the storm when it hits.
Hurricane Irma comes less than a year after the Caribbean country was devastated by the Category 5 storm Hurricane Matthew, which killed hundreds and left even more homeless.
Many families still remain in temporary and unstable shelters following last year’s storm, making them even more vulnerable to the effects of Irma.
Oxfam, which has worked in the Caribbean for more than 30 years, is helping to evacuate as many people as possible away from the coast and further inland.
Plans for emergency repairs to water and sanitation facilities are also set to get underway after the storm hits, with Oxfam working with local authorities to tackle the issue.
Speaking from Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, Oxfam’s Tania Escamilla said: “My engineering and humanitarian colleagues tell me that although cholera cases are considered low and ‘under control’, the disease remains their biggest concern should the storm wreck infrastructure.
“We fear that half-a-million people could be affected even in the best-case scenario - or as many as 3 million in the worst”.
Oxfam also has teams set to respond to the disaster in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Help charities target their support
According to David Foster of the British Red Cross, while money donations remain “vital”, there are additional ways Brits can help support natural disaster victims in the long term.
In many impoverished countries - including some of those hit by Hurricane Irma - massive areas are “missing” from maps, making it incredibly difficult for first responders to accurately target relief efforts after a disaster.
“There are huge swathes of the world that are not properly mapped because it’s not financially useful to do so - either by big companies or governments,” Foster said.
However, projects such as Missing Maps - which was founded by charities including the British Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders - allow people to tackle this issue using satellite imagery to highlight where houses, roads and services exist.
These details are then confirmed and added to by local people.
“It’s vital for the humanitarian industry and it’s a way people can help from their own computer,” Foster added.
Since 2014, Missing Maps contributors have flagged more than 14 million buildings and more than 1.5 million kilometres of road.
UNICEF estimates that more than 10.5 million children will be caught up in the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, including more than 3 million children under the age of five.
According to the charity, its most pressing task was to provide drinking water and sanitation to the victims of the storm, as well as protection and psychological support to the huge number of children affected.
Speaking from Barbados, Patrick Knight - head of communication for UNICEF in the Eastern Caribbean - said: “As the extent of the damage becomes clear we are seeing severe levels of destruction.
“Our priority is to reach all those children and families in the affected communities as soon as possible.”
Save The Children
As the deadly storm moves from Puerto Rico and onwards towards the Dominican Republic, Save The Children’s emergency teams are working with the armed forces to evacuate civilians from across 17 provinces.
According to the charity, up to 3 million people are affected - around 40% of which live in poverty.
With designated shelters able to accomodate just 900,000 people, volunteers are now converting churches, schools and community centres.
Save The Children has also deployed its Emergency Health Unit (EHU) to the nation so specialists can help families and children in the worst-hit areas.
“Deadly storms have a bias against children,” Unni Krishnan, director of the EHU, said.
“Storms often leave a lasting impact on young minds. Relief efforts should prioritise children – their needs, their emotional well-being.”
He continued: “The best way to beat a hurricane is to stop it from happening. While the priority for the next few days should be to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, addressing climate change is a key factor in reducing the frequency and ferocity of storms in the future.
“Investing in disaster risk reduction and bolstering the resilience of communities are key to break the cycle of disasters and the misery they bring.”