Washington: The Indian Embassy in the US today opened a round the clock helpline for Indians in need of help in the wake of hurricane Irma, which American officials said could have a catastrophic impact on Florida when it makes landfall there.
“We are keeping sort of minute to minute watch on developments. We have set up hotlines. We are in touch with community leaders in Florida area,” Indian Ambassador to US Navtej Sarna told PTI after a review meeting he had on hurricane Irma preparedness.
The hotline number is 202-258-8819. Mr Sarna also decided to bolster strength of the Indian Consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, with hurricane Irma expected to make landfall in Florida today. Florida comes under the jurisdiction of the Atlanta Consulate.
“We have asked our Consul General in New York (Sandeep Chakravorty) to proceed to Atlanta to lead the support effort,” Mr Sarna said.
“Rushing to Atlanta to bolster strength to our Atlanta Consulate for Irma Hurricane,” Mr Chakravorty tweeted, as he headed for Atlanta.
The Consulate in Atlanta is fully prepared to assist any evacuees, the Indian Ambassador to the US said.
“We are also ensuring that emergency passport and visa services are available,” Mr Sarna said. Email for emergency visa requests is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notably, Florida is one of the major tourist destinations for Indian visitors. August-September are one of the peak season months.
According to ‘rand USA’, as many as 29 per cent of Indian tourists visit Florida, which along with Hawaii is the third top destination for Indians after New York and California.
In 2016, as many as 1.17 million Indians visited the US and spent a record $13.6 billion. Mr Sarna said the Indian Embassy in the US is also in touch with the Indian Embassy in Venezuela, France as well as the head office in Delhi “to see how it can (provide) necessary support on this” in the Caribbean island of St Martin, which has been badly damaged as a result of hurricane Irma.
“While our main focus is on Florida, at the same time, we are standing by to assist St Martin”, he said.