Hurricane Irma: ‘British Virgin Islands look like a bomb site’


Boats piled up at the island of Tortola

Image caption

Boats were piled up against Tortola’s shore by Hurricane Irma

The BBC’s Paul Blake and Laura Bicker report from the British Virgin Islands, where Hurricane Irma’s force has destroyed communities, and left at least five people dead.

The flight into the island of Tortola should feature sweeping views of lush green hillsides and translucent-blue bays. Today it looks like the victim of a bomb blast.

On approach to the airport on Saturday, boats could be seen piled on top of one another like children’s toys. Others laid lop-sided on dry ground or semi-submerged offshore.

At the main international airport, operations have ceased. Small, local aircraft are occasionally allowed to land in order to bring food and water, or to evacuate the critically ill.

The Royal Engineers and Commandos co-ordinated by Joint Force Headquarters have retrofitted the arrivals lounge into something of a home base, where they are organising security and recovery operations.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, those operations came into full swing with the arrival of a Royal Air Force A400M transport aircraft. As the massive prop plane came to a halt its rear hatch cracked open.

Image caption

Troops arrived on the island of Tortola on Saturday

Image caption

British troops are using Tortola’s airport arrivals lounge as a home base

Dozens of soldiers jogged out with gear that is being used to establish a sort of base of operations inside the arrivals lounge.

Over the coming days they’ll be working to reinstate law and order on the island and help jump-start the recovery process.

A car ride to the governor’s office gave a street-level view of the destruction. Many neighbourhoods have been flattened, their residents can be seen trying to cook and clean amidst the rubble.

Hill sides were strewn with debris and dotted by houses disembowelled by the storms powerful winds.

Around them, the earth looked scorched – not by fire, but by wind and water that has ripped away vegetation.

Power lines snaked across roads while residents drove over them in vehicles with blown-out windows.

Image caption

Many houses have been destroyed by Hurricane Irma

Flipped cars and boats in the street meant driving was slow and treacherous.

Downed trees and power poles were buttressed by flimsy boards so that cars passed underneath.

With stagnant water pooling in the streets and a decimated utility system, there is now a concern that disease and other public health threats could emerge.

Residents recalled the storm with horror, with many believing that the hurricane had spun off tornadoes, which then cut through buildings like a jigsaw.

As they tried to assess the damage, many asked with trepidation about Hurricane Jose – a smaller storm loosely following Irma’s path – and whether it was coming their way.

At the governor’s mansion, British soldiers were working to establish satellite communications with the outside world, while Brigadier John Ridge was liaising with governor Gus Jaspert about what operations needed to be prioritised.

At a local police station – we are told – British Army commandos are working with officers to try and re-establish control after reports of looting. For his part, the governor has imposed an overnight curfew to keep criminality at bay.

A drive back to the airport revealed further damage. With trees uprooted, another fear is that rain could result in land erosion.

Image caption

Soldiers used the luggage carousel to sleep on overnight

Back inside the airport arrivals lounge, UK soldiers spent Saturday night sleeping on the luggage carousel and on benches.

Asleep just after sundown and awake at daybreak on Sunday, they will need the rest for the work ahead of them.

That task could become taller in the coming days as food, petrol and cash shortages may lead to desperation.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here