Governor praises commandos' 'outstanding' efforts to help Virgin Islanders

Topic: Fighting armsRoyal Marines

The governor of the British Virgin Islands has thanked Royal Marines for their 'outstanding' help - and for standing by islanders in one of their darkest hours.

As Hurricane Maria - the second storm to batter the island chain in a fortnight - subsided, Gus Jaspert visited the police station in Road Town, Tortola, which has served as the command post for the relief effort spearheaded by 40 Commando.

The men and women of the Lead Commando Group have concentrated their efforts on Tortola, the most populous island in the chain, but have also been on the ground in the outlying isles such as Jost van Dyke and Virgin Gorda, distributing emergency supplies (food and shelters), patching up buildings, clearing roads and providing security in the face of looting.

Even as the tail-end of Maria continued to lash Tortola with heavy rain and strong winds, the commandos were clearing streets of mud and debris and handing out supplies to locals.

A team of Royal Engineers from 59 Commando Squadron helped the islands' electricity corporation restore power cables destroyed in the high winds.

Corporal Rory Barker and his team of engineering specialists helped to salvage undamaged material and re-erect the wooden pylons of the electric grid system.

Taking their lead from local engineer Taryll 'Zulu' Desouza, the commandos used a circular cutting saw to remove specific parts of the communication structure.

"This is my first operation in a disaster relief capacity. The guys are working hard but it's rewarding stuff," said Rory.

The engineers have been working tirelessly across the island, concentrating on the islands' power, water and communications infrastructure, such as building a storm-proof shelter to house a generator at the reverse osmosis plant in East End; it withstood the battering it received from Maria and ensured locals continued to receive clean fresh water.

Their efforts - as well as those of the Royal Marines and Royal Navy medics have been co-ordinated by 40 Commando's staff, headed by CO Lt Col Paul Maynard, working alongside local authorities and police in the makeshift command centre.

"The efforts of the BVI police force combined with the UK military and UK, Cayman Island and Bermuda police forces has been outstanding," Mr Jaspert told the team in the police station. "I'd like to thank you all

"The islands are now able to get back on their feet, security is restored and the process of reconstruction for the long term can start. The fact that all of these forces remained on the island and endured Maria with the rest of the people is testament to your commitment. It allowed for security to be immediately maintained and for relief efforts to restart instantly.

"We are now in a good place - with the help of the UK - to rebuild this territory to something even greater than it was before."

It's not the only praise for the marines' efforts on the ground in the wake of Irma and Maria. Dr Nick Gent, a Senior Medical Specialist from Public Health England, says his team are six weeks ahead of schedule in dealing with medical and health issues after the storms.

Dr Gent, who has 14 years' experience and has deployed to Sierra Leone, the Balkans and Philippines, heads a three-man team in the British Virgin Islands which assesses the most pressing health concerns - such as clean water supplies, or a sudden mosquito infestation - and advises and assists local medical and environmental health experts.

"My team has been reliant on military support from the outset. They have moved us, provided security for us, fed us and assisted us where ever they could. They have bent over backwards because they understand the importance of our work," Dr Gent said.

"Working with the military has brought us six weeks ahead in real time. I could not foresee a rapid reaction operation on this scale working without their help. Working alongside the military is the only way to do this."

His team has worked side-by-side with 40 Commando's medics, who've been out and about, meeting islanders, tending to some of their health needs and concerns and feeding back crucial information - especially from remote communities.

Dr Gent added, "The direct observation from the deployed Royal Marine medical teams has been extremely helpful. Having the teams deploying to the remote islands of Anegada and Jost Van Dyke really aided us in our health care assessment."

The efforts of the BVI police force combined with the UK military and UK, Cayman Island and Bermuda police forces has been outstanding. I'd like to thank you all

Gus Jaspert, Governor of the British Virgin Islands