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Twisted steel hangars, mangled light aircraft, a destroyed helicopter hanging in bare trees, battered boats cast like toys on white sand beaches: these were the scenes that greeted Team Rubicon UK and Serve On volunteers as they touched down in Terrance B Lettsome airport in Beef Island on the British Virgin Islands on Sunday.
The team lost no time in getting to work to repair some of the damage done by Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded. They restored fencing around the airport’s perimeter, cleared broken seats and wrecked air conditioning units inside the terminal, and cleared a space for the British military to stack much needed food and water.
A steady stream of traumatized residents and bewildered children queued through the airport, desperate to get flights out. They welcomed the British volunteers, recognizing the flags on their uniforms.
Hurricane Irma slammed into a string of Caribbean islands last week, killing at least 28 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.
Team Rubicon UK’s second team expects to be landing in Turks and Caicos Islands later today and are ready to hit the ground running to aid efforts to deliver humanitarian relief. A third team is also making its way to Turks and Caicos, with further plans to get volunteers into Antigua.
The team on the Britain Virgin Islands is equipped with a Serve On water filtration unit, specialist technical search tools and communications equipment. We are very grateful to the RAF who aided the operation by airlifting 500 kg of equipment from Barbados to BVI.
“(The team) is now really well lashed in with the UK military team and with the local authorities and is getting out and doing the assessment and seeing where they can have the greatest impact,” said Oz Lane, Team Rubicon UK’s director of operations at the HQ near Salisbury.
Former British Army officer and Team Rubicon volunteer Lizzy Stileman is in the British Virgin Islands.
She said: “When I got a call on Wednesday from Team Rubicon asking me if I could deploy either later that night, or the following morning to the Caribbean to assist in the disaster relief work after Hurricane Irma, I was in no doubt that I had to deploy. Over the next few days we will assess what the immediate humanitarian priorities are and what we at Team Rubicon can do to help.”
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