A team of disaster relief specialists from Team Rubicon UK and international search and rescue charity Serve On described scenes of utter destruction after landing in the British Virgin Islands late on Sunday to assist with humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricane Irma.
The joint team landed at Terrance B Lettsome airport on Beef Island to find twisted steel-framed hangars and smashed light aircraft littering the airfield. Cars had been flung on top of each other like toys and on one side of the runway, a destroyed helicopter hung upside down in the bare trees.
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.
A second group of veterans and experts in search and rescue, logistics and reconstruction from Team Rubicon UK is heading to Turks and Caicos, expecting to arrive later on Monday to assess the destruction and aid humanitarian efforts there.
The team on BVI is equipped with a water filtration unit, specialist technical search tools and communications equipment. The RAF aided the operation by airlifting 500 kg of equipment from Barbados to BVI.
On landing on Beef Island, the Team Rubicon UK and Serve On volunteers immediately got to work, repairing fencing to secure the airport perimeter, clearing twisted seats and mangled air conditioning units in the terminal and helping residents load their bags onto trucks. After 90 minutes, the team had enabled the opening of two departure channels and cleared space for British military to stack supplies of water and food.
Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm on record, slammed into the 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.
Former British Army officer and Team Rubicon volunteer Lizzy Stileman is in BVI.
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.”
The Salisbury-based charities expect to have around 20 staff in the region by the end of the week. They will coordinate their efforts with other agencies and organisations on the ground, using their unique skills to bolster efforts to offer help and hope to people who have lost everything.
Team Rubicon UK was set up in 2015 and its first mission was to bring relief to Nepal in the wake of the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that year. Since then it has responded to 20 disasters in the UK and overseas.
Its veterans and civilian volunteers provide urgent, practical aid to those affected by natural disasters, either at home or abroad, matching the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders, and medical professionals.
“It is 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 mobilize to provide support,” said Team Rubicon UK’s Director of Field Operations Oz Lane at the charity’s base in Salisbury.
Team Rubicon has launched an emergency appeal and donations can be made on their website www.teamrubiconuk.org
Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams to disasters in the UK and overseas in order to immediately improve the quality of life of the people who are affected. The charity offers veterans the opportunity to continue their service by helping those affected by disasters while regaining a sense of purpose, community and identity.