Hurricane Irma: Survivors on Tortola want more UK help

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.

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.

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.

Media captionHurricane Irma: ‘My roof blew off – I lost everything’

We met one survivor who was still trying to comprehend what had happened to his home. Arron Glasgow says he and his brother were fighting to keep the wind out when the roof suddenly blew off.

Standing in what used to be the family’s living room, he says “I’ve lost everything. What you see me have on – perhaps one other shirt – is what I have.”

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.

Image copyright Paul Blake/BBC
Image caption There is a shortage of basic supplies such as gasoline, food and water
Image copyright Paul Blake/BBC

Some residents have criticised the UK government’s response as “pathetic and slow”. British troops have now arrived to help.

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.

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.

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