23rd Sep, 2019

Warwickshire firefighters help after devastating hurricane hits British Virgin Islands

POLICE officers from the region were among the first to help when a devastating hurricane hit the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Sgt David Hind, one of six officers from the West Mercia and Warwickshire forces, spent three weeks helping maintain law and order and rebuild the country following the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in September.

Sgt Hind spoke to the Observer about his trip which began with an RAF flight from Brize Norton to Barbados,and then onto Tortola, the capital of the BVI.

Sgt Hind said: “The BVI suffer huricanes every year but this was something else – a category five – the most severe hurricane possible.

“The powerlines aren’t underground like they are over here, they are on telegraph poles which were brought down by the storms. There were even tornadoes within the hurricane.

“The whole of the island was without water and power, prisoners had escaped from the jails and in the early days some of the more expensive shops, such as jewellers, were looted.”

Calls were made for the British Government to send troops and volunteers from police forces up and down the country. Over 100 officers were sent out.

“We literally passed on the tarmac – we got off the plane and they got on it to come home,” said Sgt Hind,

“From above in the airbus you couldn’t really see the true extent of the devastation.

“But when we got out on the ground it was horrendous.

“It looked like a war zone. I’ve never been in the forces but this was how I imagine a war zone would be.

“Roofs had been ripped off buildings, roads had literally been washed away and houses and cars were badly damaged and in some cases smashed to pieces.

“There were also boats upside down or sank in the harbour and some of them had been tossed onto the roads.

“People’s discarded broken possessions lay everywhere and people were just sat at the side of the roads, not knowing what to do but trying to do what they could. Some of them were selling the remaining possessions they had in tact.”

Sgt Hind and his colleagues supported local police carrying out patrols.

“We helped the police officers who were working but many had not turned up for work as they had suffered too and had lost all their homes and possessions.

“They had more things to worry about.”

When the UK officers were not policing, they were helping aid agencies, such as The Red Cross and Unicef, to distribute food and clothes to islanders who had lost everything.

“The people we met were so lovely and so appreciative.

“They kept coming up to us, shaking us by the hand and thanking us for coming over.

“It was so nice.”

Sgt Hind and his colleagues also had their own daily battles to cope with. The conditions and standing water led to numerous problems.

“To start with we were in a hotel but a lot of the roof was missing and when it rained, and that happened a lot, the whole place flooded.

“We took our camp beds and slept in the store room among the food, clothes and water supplies.”

He said the humidity and the mosquitoes also led to a lot of issues.

“It was hard to cope with the weather conditions and we were bitten all over by the mosquitoes, even through our clothes. There was nothing we could do to stop it happening.

“They then blistered over and I feared they were going to become infected.

“I had to get some special antibiotic cream from the chemist because the antiseptic we had brought over was completely ineffective.”

Looking back on the trip Sgt Hind said: “I feel so honoured that we were able to help people out and their reaction towards us was so humbling – one I’ll never forget for as long as I live.

“I really hope they get their lives back to some form of normality as soon as is possible and wish them well for the future.”

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