A team that harnesses the experience of military veterans to aid disaster relief missions is gearing up to help families hit by Hurricane Irma using the skills they honed in the armed forces.
Team Rubicon UK (TRUK) is moving to a forward position in response to the storm that is tearing a deadly path through the Caribbean, with Florida placed on high alert for its arrival.
Irma is thundering along on a course forecast to take it toward the Bahamas and the British overseas territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands, but it has already left a trail of devastation in its wake.
The hurricane destroyed almost all buildings on the island of Barbuda on Wednesday, killing a two-year-old child as a family tried to escape, before wreaking havoc on the French territories of St Martin and St Barts.
At least 14 people have been killed and dozens injured in French Caribbean island territories, while one death was reported in the nearby island of Anguilla, a British overseas territory that was among the first islands to be hit.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the UK is "taking swift action to respond" to the disaster after speaking to the Chief Minister of Anguilla.
Britain is sending a contingent to offer assistance to the relief effort, with 40 Royal Marines, British Army engineers and equipment already deployed as RFA Mounts Bay continues her deployment in the Caribbean region as local authorities struggle to bring aid to smaller islands.
The MoD earlier told Forces News that the UK is sending a military task group - made up of hundreds of troops - to the Caribbean as Hurricane Irma batters several islands.
International Development Secretary Priti Patel, speaking of Britain’s response, said: “We have deployed three UK aid humanitarian experts to the region to help coordinate the response, and positioned a British naval ship with 40 Royal Marines, Army Engineers, and vehicles, tents and facilities to purify water on board.”
Team Rubicon UK volunteers will add assistance to the efforts already provided by their American counterparts at Team Rubicon USA - charities that unite the skills and experience of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams around the world.
Volunteers with the UK arm of the charity, whose headquarters are housed in a former RAF base at Chilmark near Salisbury in Wiltshire, have already been on standby to offer assistance after American volunteers sent water rescue teams to Houston when tropical storm Harvey made landfall in the USA earlier this month.
A team from the UK is deploying to the Caribbean to make initial assessments of the impact of Hurricane Irma and make plans to tie in with the official response in the region, with one team deploying today, September 7, and a second wave on September 9.
A TRUK spokesperson said that Hurricane Irma, a category 5 Hurricane, was the strongest Atlantic storm in recorded history.
The organisation is monitoring the storm's impact in the coming hours and days over which time it is expected to remain a powerful category 4 or 5 storm - bringing with it dangerous winds, storm surges, extreme rainfall, along with rough surf and rip currents.
The charity fears there is potential for significant humanitarian impact – with many thousands of people being evacuated into emergency shelters.
"It’s clear that Hurricane Irma has absolutely devastated the affected islands, destroying buildings, leaving families homeless and seeing a tragic loss of life."
Director of Field Operations Oz Lane said: “It’s clear that Hurricane Irma has absolutely devastated the affected islands, destroying buildings, leaving families homeless and seeing a tragic loss of life.
"The local communities are going to face enormous challenges in the coming days, weeks and even months. Team Rubicon will be assessing what the immediate humanitarian priorities are and what resources we need to mobilise to provide support.
"Our team in the UK will continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Irma as well as Hurricane Jose which has the capacity to cause a devastating secondary impact.”
Team Rubicon is mobilising volunteers to support the wider response and a second team is preparing to depart to Haiti where the hurricane is currently heading.
Team Rubicon’s main mission is to provide disaster relief to communities hit by natural disasters at home and abroad by pairing the skills of military veterans with first responders, medical professionals and technology solutions.
It was among 12 charities to earn a share of a one million-dollar donation from US President Donald Trump to aid their work in the wake of Hurricane Harvey earlier this month.