Geneva/Panama, 9 September – Hurricane Irma has lashed the north-east of Cuba with strong winds and heavy rains, and threatening coastal areas with massive storm surges. It is expected to make landfall in the US state of Florida on Sunday (10 September).

Hundreds of Cuban Red Cross volunteers helped evacuate communities ahead of the storm’s arrival and will, as the storm passes, play a central role in relief efforts to follow.

This is a major event unfolding in real time across the Caribbean,” said Elhadj As Sy, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “The number of people directly exposed to the storm is growing every day. It is a catastrophe by any measure, and it could still get worse with the now imminent arrival of Hurricane José.”

IFRC has announced an international appeal for just over 1.1 million Swiss francs to support hundreds of hurricane-affected families in Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis. This appeal will enable the Red Cross Societies of those countries to address critical health and water and sanitation needs.

In Barbuda, most of the water supply comes from shallow wells,” said Jan Gelfand, IFRC Deputy Regional Director for the Americas who has been leading field assessments on the battered island. “We are concerned that dirty water and potential outbreaks of water borne diseases could become an issue, depending on where people who have lost their homes take refuge. Our operation is designed to stave off these concerns.”

Relief operation in both countries will place heavy emphasis on cash – ensuring that people who lost their homes and belongings have financial resources to navigate the coming difficult weeks. Other priorities include emergency shelter, and distribution of basic household supplies.

Efforts are likely to be complicated by the imminent arrival of Hurricane José, which is gaining power every hour and could become a Category 5. José is expected to make landfall in Barbuda later today. All residents have been evacuated to Antigua.

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More information on the impact of Hurricane Irma and the IFRC response is available here:

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