Deeply concerned about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, United Nations agencies are already preparing supplies and communication lines to the youth in the region.
“Although it is still early to know the full impact that Irma will have in the region, the main concerns of UNICEF center around the supply of drinking water and food, and the health and protection of children and adolescents,” the United Nations Children’s Fund said on Wednesday.
UNICEF said its office in the region has activated its emergency protocols, and is working with Government officials in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the Virgin Islands, as well as the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, which the hurricane is projected to hit next.
Supplies of drinking water, unperishable food and medicines, and emergency kits are pre-positioned and ready for distribution in the most affected communities, UNICEF said.
The agency also activated its U-Report platform, which allows it to send urgent messages via Facebook and other social media platforms to young people who subscribed.
“Considering the possible magnitude that Irma represents, it is both hugely urgent and necessary to be prepared, informed and vigilant so that we try to avoid the impact on the most vulnerable, that is to say children,” said Marita Perceval, Regional Director of UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The UN said Hurricane Irma has become “the most dangerous natural phenomenon” in the region this year, stating that its impact may likely surpass Hurricane Matthew, which was a category 4 hurricane on a five-point scale and affected 3.2 million people last October – of whom 1.3 million were children.
Since last fall, UNICEF said it has been working with government officials in the Caribbean to help create better access to clean water and hygiene, education, protection, nutrition and health, and respond to the spread of cholera.
The UN said a team of humanitarian workers headed to Barbados on Wednesday to work with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
The team will help those on the ground brace for a storm that could affect up to 37 million people, the UN said.
In Haiti, UN humanitarian staff have been deployed to the northern area of the country, which is likely to be hit.
In addition, the UN said some military and police from the “drawn-down” of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MINUSTAH, are preparing to be deployed to assist the Haitian National Police.
Meantime, Hurricane Irma hammered Puerto Rico Wednesday night after smashing a string of small northern Caribbean islands where at least three people were killed, according to reports.
There were about 900,000 customers without power as strong winds lashed the island, CNN reported.
Officials said there were several rescues because of flooding, but there were no immediate reports of injuries in the US territory of about 3.4 million people.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló told CNN he thinks the island was being hit hard even though the eye of the storm stayed off shore.
“From the center of operations that we have over here in San Juan, there is pretty significant damage already done,” he said, citing wind gusts of more than 100 mph.
At least two people died and two others were seriously injured in the islands of St. Barts and St. Martin, French Overseas Affairs Minister Annick Girardin said.
An infant died in Barbuda, where as many as 95 percent of structures were damaged, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne told reporters.
Irma has maintained intensity above 180 mph longer than any storm in Atlantic basin history, CNN said.
It said late Wednesday night, Irma’s core was spinning about 85 miles northwest of San Juan, with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph.
In the US Virgin Islands, Governor Kenneth E. Mapp ordered a 36-hour curfew, according to CNN.
On Thursday, it said the storm will move very near or over the Turks and Caicos, “with catastrophic damage likely.”
The storm will also pass just north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, bringing hurricane force winds to northern sections of the island, with flooding and mudslides probable, CNN said.
It said Irma’s core slammed the tiny island of Barbuda before moving over St. Martin and Anguilla and parts of the British Virgin Islands.
Its maximum sustained winds of 185 mph were well above the 157 mph threshold of a Category 5 storm.
Browne told CNN the damage was “heart-wrenching, absolutely devastating,” estimating that the damage on Barbuda, where he says 1,800 people live, to be at least US$100 million.
The Antigua and Barbuda prime minister said the telecommunications system in Barbuda, where a state of emergency has been declared, was wiped out and cell towers were knocked over.
Both the island’s hotels were demolished, he added.