Video footage and photographs shot by ex-military disaster response volunteers reveal the ‘unrelenting’ devastation faced by British teams in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Teams made up of former members of the British armed forces, civilian specialists and former fire brigade search and rescue experts have started to clear roads, shift rubble and add their support to the contingent of British troops who have also arrived on the ground in the Caribbean as part of the UK’s relief operation.
Video and photographs by Team Rubicon UK / Serve On
Volunteers from disaster relief specialists Team Rubicon UK - a charity that harnesses the skills and experience of military veterans to aid disaster relief missions – provided some muscle-power to clear debris and rubble.
They cleared enough rubble to make space for the official British military taskforce to stack much-needed food and water after arriving in the British Virgin Islands at the weekend.
The volunteers are working with emergency search and rescue charity Serve On.
A deployment of 500 Royal Marines, Engineers and specialist personnel from all three armed forces services arrived in the region last week in an operation that Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon says will continue with more regular military flights.
The British Government has pledged an extra £25 million to help British Overseas Territories affected by Hurricane Irma.
Charity teams are part of a separate operation from the official taskforce but they are working closely with the British troops and liaising with the military to add their support to the response efforts.
Team Rubicon UK operations manager Dan Cooke, a former fire and rescue officer, said: “The devastation across the country is unrelenting.
“Nowhere has escaped the extraordinarily powerful winds. Mile upon mile of debris has been scattered, without a single leaf left on any of the trees.
“Trees, cars, trucks, air-conditioning units, super yachts, speedboats, everything is randomly scattered across the island.”
Team Rubicon UK and Serve On volunteers got straight to work after arriving on Sunday - with these videos and pictures taken by former British Army officer Lizzy Stileman, of Team Rubicon UK, showing some of the chaos they face.
They restored fencing around the perimeter of Terrance B Lettsome airport, cleared broken seats and wrecked air conditioning units inside the terminal, and removed rubble to make space for the British military to stack food, water and supplies.
Mr Cooke added: ““The marinas have boats floating upside down, masts broken and some stacked on top of each other.
“Likewise, the hills have carcasses of cars hanging off the sides of the steep slopes.
“The small roads, which wind their way around the island, are covered in debris, and the ones adjacent to the sea have been totally washed away.
“Telegraph poles lay scattered at different angles along the roadside with wires hanging perilously from them.”
Volunteers, once out of the airport, later started clearing roads of twisted trees and downed electricity poles to free routes for other aid workers.
The teams reported that local residents are becoming increasingly worried about the threat of disease, the lack of supplies and the risk of looting in the wake of the disaster.
Video courtesy of British Airways /Team Rubicon UK / Serve On
General Sir Nick Parker, former Commander in Chief of the UK Land Forces and chairman of Team Rubicon UK, said: ““I am always overwhelmed by the response from our Team Rubicon volunteers.
“They drop everything at almost no notice and they have raced to the Caribbean to help others in extraordinarily challenging circumstances and where there is dire need.
“It is very rewarding to see how much their efforts have been appreciated by other relief agencies and the residents of the islands. I am very proud to be part of Team Rubicon.”
The British charities have been asked to assess the state of community centres around the island as part of their response to the disaster – and they are hearing reports of looting and many people struggling to get fuel and food supplies.
Mr Cooke said: “It is evident that the Team Rubicon UK and Serve On team are the first out on the ground and 90 percent of the population are absolutely delighted to see us.
“They have no electricity, no running water, they are short of food and essential supplies but are working together to clear up.
“However, in some locations, it seems that disorder is starting to take place with evidence of small-scale looting. There is also a shortage of fuel across the island, resulting in cars queuing for what looked like hours.”
He added that one of the big challenges was communications, with 90 percent of the island lacking mobile communication, leaving most people without access to news and vital information.
Hurricane Irma slammed into a string of Caribbean islands last week, killing more than 30 people before making its way to Florida.
Winds of up to 185 mph battered homes, destroying up to 95 percent of buildings in some places and knocking out power and communications.
Team Rubicon UK is hoping to get volunteers into Turks and Caicos on Tuesday, and a third group left London on Wednesday en route to Antigua.
Another team is also heading into the region from New York.
Team Rubicon UK has launched an emergency appeal at http://www.teamrubiconuk.org/donate to fund its work in the Caribbean.