Our volunteers get to grips with “unrelenting” devastation after Irma

It’s been non-stop for the team since they arrived in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. They’ve been clearing roads, shifting downed electricity poles, assessing community centres and listening carefully to residents who are desperate for help and information in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Here’s what ex fire and rescue officer and Team Rubicon UK Operations Manager Dan Cooke had to say about conditions on the island:

“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,” he said.

TR Operations Manager Dan Cooke is currently leading a joint team from Team Rubicon and Serve On in the British Virgin Islands

“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,” he added.

Our team, working side-by-side with Serve On, went out on Monday to assess community centres on the island. On the way, they were pulled up short by a telegraph pole lying across the road, and were told that ahead of them the road was totally blocked. So they got to work and with help from keen residents, a way was opened.

Dan clearing a way through with members of Serve On

“It was a monumental effort and very worthwhile to re-open the pass,” Cooke said.

A big concern is the lack of information: 90 percent of the island is without mobile communication and most people are locked in an information vacuum.

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,” Cooke said.

“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.”

“The hills have carcasses of cars hanging off the sides of the steep slopes”

General Sir Nick Parker, chair of Team Rubicon UK, had high praise for the volunteers.

“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.”

Hurricane Irma slammed into a string of Caribbean islands last week, killing at least 40 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. The damage is estimated to cost billions of dollars and European nations have sent military reinforcements to help stricken residents and keep order.

We are hoping to get more volunteers onto the ground in the coming hours: we have a team trying to get to Turks and Caicos from the Dominican Republic, and another group left London this morning en route to Antigua. Thanks so much to British Airways and Airlink for making that happen. Another team is also heading into the region from New York.

We need your help to make the most of these incredible people. Please donate to our Emergency Appeal here

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Team Rubicon UK has an advance party in the air on route to Mozambique in the wake of Cyclone Idai.

With estimated affected people now in the millions, we anticipate that our response teams will be working to get aid and water into the most remote, cut-off communities and using our disaster mapping capability to assist our partners.