British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma

Credit: British Red Cross

By Kevin Studds, British Red Cross country manager for our overseas branches

Hurricane Irma is the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. As it continues its path across the Caribbean, the extent of the devastation is starting to become clear.

So far, the islands of St Martin and Barbuda have borne the brunt of the storm. But also affected are the British Overseas Territories of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands where the British Red Cross has branches.

With Hurricane Jose following close behind in Irma’s path, the concern for those caught up in the north-east Caribbean heightens.

Utter devastation

Hurricane Irma made landfall on Wednesday. Since then, it has brought much destruction.

British Red Cross volunteers in Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands report seeing huge damage, with roofs blown off and windows blown in.

British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma

Credit: British Red Cross

They describe cars overturned, boats on the land when they should be in the sea, and scattered large shipping containers. Much is where it shouldn’t be.

In Anguilla, the Red Cross director estimates that 80 per cent of buildings have been damaged, including the Red Cross office. As such, they have had to set up in another location.

Stories from the islands

Communications are still down on the islands, but we have started to get reports on what is happening on the ground via satellite phones.

I managed to speak to Red Cross volunteer Maureen on the British Virgin Islands, who is also acting as disaster manager.

Maureen told me that after the hurricane, she and three other volunteers were approached on a street by a man whose sister had fallen from a two-storey building. He said she was lying on the ground in need of help.

They went to her aid and used their first aid training to stabilise her before driving her in a Red Cross vehicle to hospital.

While there, they were approached by another man who needed help for his elderly father. They went with him to find his father had bad lacerations to the back of his head. They brought him to the hospital along with two other people.

Maureen hadn’t even been back to see the damage to her own home before she started helping others.

British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma

Credit: British Red Cross

The impact

Right now, our Red Cross staff and volunteers are documenting the extent of the damage and what people need most. With damaged vehicles and roads, a lot of this has to be done on foot.

We do have some idea of the immediate problems people are facing. Many won’t be able to stay in their houses because they are flooded or have lost their roofs. With Hurricane Jose following in Irma’s path, people will once again have to take cover in shelters.

We also shouldn’t underestimate the enormous trauma people will be experiencing. We can hear in our own staff and volunteer’s voices that they are stunned by what they are seeing.

The British Red Cross has today sent out two psychosocial support experts, as part of a Foreign and Commonwealth rapid deployment team, to help Britons caught up in the disaster.

The Red Cross has relief supplies pre-positioned. However, some have been damaged and access is a challenge, so we’re working to make sure people can get what they need. Airports on both Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands have been damaged.

British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma

Credit: British Red Cross

Not over yet

Hurricane Irma is still moving through the Caribbean. We are waiting to hear news from the Turks and Caicos Islands, which were hit this morning, but significant damage is expected.

We also have concerns around Hurricane Jose. It’s not as strong and a little further north, but with already weak structures and water damage, people are vulnerable.

Despite the challenges, there are Red Cross volunteers in every country in Irma’s path and they stand ready to support in the aftermath, too.