Navy captain describes scenes of devastation as fleet spearhead response to Hurricane Irma

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The captain of a British naval ship spearheading the humanitarian response to Hurricane Irma said he has never before “seen anything on the scale” of the damage caused.

Stephen Norris, the commanding officer of Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay, has described scenes of devastation on the British Virgin Islands as military teams carried out relief work.

Irma has torn a destructive trail through several British territories, including Anguilla, where the ship’s crew has already travelled to help restore the airstrip and hospital.

RFA Mounts Bay has been transporting a task group of experts including engineers and a medical team to the affected areas, along with supplies. 

Hurricane Irma: Helicopeter footage shows British Virgin Islands devastation

Speaking from on board the vessel, which is stationed off Road Town in the British Virgin Islands, Capt Norris said: “I haven’t seen anything on the scale of what we have seen here, it is one of those storms which I think defies all expectations.

“We have looked at some of the outlying islands and we can confirm some of the damage there – Road Town was hit bad, but there are other islands that are not as bad.

“Clearly, there has been some injuries, we haven’t got a full estimate yet.

“As I understand it, a lot of the islanders are fairly resilient, as hurricanes – perhaps not of this magnitude – do occur and I think their general resilience in this area says a lot. 

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“They are coming from their shelters, they are rebuilding, they are looking at the future and how they can recover from it.”

The British Virgin Islands were said to have born the brunt of the damage across the British territories, as Anguilla’s skirmish with Irma did not see it fall under the eye of the storm. 

Overnight, the Turks and Caicos Islands were reported to have been “pummelled” by the hurricane.

RFA Mounts Bay has been directed by governors at the territories to the areas of most need, with a focus on the British Virgin Islands of restoring communications, Capt Norris said.

“We will be here as long as it takes, I will stay here as long as I possibly can to support the islands,” he said.

“We are here for the long term.”

The ship was said to have arrived within 20 to 24 hours of the eye of the storm passing over Anguilla, holding off until it was safe to make an approach.

The captain responded to criticism that Britain had been too slow in providing relief to the area, saying: “We were here, we were on task, we were right behind Irma.”

Looming large over the islands is the prospect of Hurricane Jose, a category-four storm expected to bring further chaos to the Atlantic in the coming days.

Capt Norris expressed confidence that provisions would be in place to respond to the second storm. 

He said: “Looking at the track of Jose, I believe it is going to move to the north of BVI, in particular, and hopefully where we are, we might not get the full effect of the wind, we might get some rain.

“I think we need to look at how we prepare for that and how we help the island prepare for that, that is getting the message out where we can.”

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