Scenes of devastation in the Bahamas have been captured by a Royal Navy helicopter as the UK joined efforts to help the thousands of people affected by Hurricane Dorian.
At least seven people are reported to have died following what was the most powerful storm on record to hit the islands, with that number expected to rise as relief efforts continue.
The Royal Navy tweeted an aerial image taken from its Wildcat helicopter which showed roofs ripped off houses and debris floating in brown floodwater.
A team of four humanitarian experts from the Department for International Development (DFID) arrived in Nassau this week to work alongside the Bahamas Government’s National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
The crew of British ship RFA Mounts Bay, which had been stationed in the Caribbean since June in readiness for hurricane season, also joined the relief efforts.
The ship has water carriers, hygiene and shelter kits on board, as well as the helicopter which is being used to fly over the area to assess the damage and airlift in supplies.
Jon Stone, DFID’s humanitarian team leader in the Bahamas, said the ship was distributing life-saving supplies to people hit by the storm.
He added: “Our immediate focus is life-saving assistance.
“People there were under life-threatening conditions for quite a long time.
“The clock had started ticking to get them fresh water and shelter and it really is imperative that assistance is delivered quickly.
“Our critical priorities are to deliver UK-Government relief where they are needed most and continue to support CDEMA to find where those people are who need that life-saving assistance.”
Mr Stone told the PA news agency that on a reconnaissance flight he had seen roofs torn from homes and even buildings ripped from their foundations due to the high winds.
He added: “What we are seeing from the air in many places were homes completely destroyed or roofs entirely ripped off, buildings ripped from foundations.
“This is the effect of incredibly high winds of up to 180mph.
“It really is sad to look at and very difficult for the people here.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The highly skilled crew and specialist equipment of RFA Mounts Bay have been on call since June to support our overseas territories and friends in the hurricane season.
“Its Wildcat helicopter has begun conducting reconnaissance flights of the Bahamas to help assess the damage and the crew have begun distributing UK aid.
“My thoughts remain with those affected and our world-class military will continue to assist the Bahamas Government to offer relief and aid to those who need it most.”
Thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed when strong winds and rains hit the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands on Sunday, with one local relief worker describing “apocalyptic” scenes.
Damage was made worse by the fact the hurricane barely moved for almost two days, battering the islands with winds of up to 185mph and torrential rain, before moving away towards Florida on Tuesday.
People on the US coast are making made final preparations for what is now a category 2 storm, with winds at a still-dangerous 105mph.
International Development Secretary Alok Sharma said he had been briefed on the situation in the Bahamas and that his department is working closely with the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office to “get support to those in need”.
In a statement, he added: “The images of devastation and destruction across the Bahamas are truly shocking.
“The clock is now ticking to get help to those in need, and I’m pleased that Mounts Bay has begun to deliver life-saving relief items to those in desperate need.
“Sadly, we know all too well that hurricane season in the Caribbean can wreak this level of catastrophe, which is why we sent a team of DFID humanitarian experts and pre-positioned water carriers, hygiene kits and shelter kits on-board.”
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told reporters: “We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history.
“No effort or resources will be held back.”
Meanwhile, the Queen has said she was “shocked and saddened” to learn of the devastation, as she sent her condolences to Sir Cornelius Smith, governor-general of the Bahamas, on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Queen, who last visited the country in 1994, said: “Prince Philip and I have been shocked and saddened to learn of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, and we send our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives following this terrible storm.”
The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) has launched an appeal to raise more than three million dollars (£2.5 million) in a bid to help provide shelter and replace lost items such as lamps, mobile phone chargers and tarpaulins.
The organisation said the first aerial assessments of the area released after the storm moved off “confirm widespread devastation to the islands”.
Its volunteers and staff are distributing hot meals and food rations to people who may have gone without food for days.
Stephen McAndrew, IFRC’s deputy regional director for the Americas, said: “Now that Dorian is moving away from the Bahamas, there is a window of opportunity to save lives and begin to ease the suffering of these communities.
“Speed is of the essence.”