- Written by KATIE KING
- Published: 10 September 2017
Roofs ripped off, windows shattered, power was knocked out and entire wooden structures blew away as Hurricane Irma tore through the Virgin Islands with roughly 180 miles per hour winds Wednesday.
The category five hurricane left an extensive path of destruction in Tortola, but the overall attitude in the capital isn’t one of hopelessness or anger, according to Road Town resident and BVI Beacon Editor Freeman Rogers.
"I don’t see much despair honestly,” he said Saturday. “I just see people coming together, cleaning the place up, doing work and trying to make their space livable and rescue what they can.”
Mr. Rogers added many are "just grateful to be alive.”
Four fatalities have been confirmed in the territory, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.
Although some online news sites have reported widespread looting and chaotic security conditions in the territory, Mr. Rogers said the scene in Road Town is not one of hectic anarchy.
Panicked about the possibility of being slammed by Hurricane Jose, Mr. Rogers acknowledged that some Tortola residents broke into stores and stole extra supplies.
Many were terrified that Jose might hit the Virgin Islands, but the National Hurricane Center reported Saturday at 5 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time that the Category Four hurricane is on track to move away from the northern Leeward Islands on Saturday night.
A previously issued tropical storm warning for the territory is no longer in effect.
However, as there is still little communication between different areas on the island, Mr. Rogers said he can only attest to what he’s witnessing in Road Town.
The BVI Department of Disaster Management addressed safety concerns in a recent post on their Facebook page.
“We have challenges with security particularly as it relates to looting,” stated the post. “I’m appealing to the good and decency of residents in the BVI to respect the rule of law and persons property. Communities are encouraged to continue to support each other and remain resilient through this period.”
The post did not elaborate on the severity of these security concerns, or if they applied to a specific town or village.
Attempts to reach the department for further information were unsuccessful.
The department’s Facebook page also stated that a territory-wide daily curfew is in effect from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The government of the Virgin Islands also expressed concerns about looting on its official Facebook page Friday and stated in a post that looters will not go unpunished.
"The gleeful manner in which residents are involved in this criminal activity has been characterised as a carnival,'"stated the post.
The UK's National Police Chiefs' Council announced Saturday that British police officers are being sent to the territory to provide support to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and help maintain order.
RFA Mounts Bay, a UK military supply ship, arrived in the territory Friday to assist with relief efforts.
Rogers said the arrival of international aid greatly boosted morale in Road Town.
"I think now we're feeling a lot more comfortable just knowing that these people are around,” he explained. “The other day we were very concerned about [ food and water] shortages.”
Mr. Rogers said he thinks the ship came “pretty quickly” given that it went to assist those in Anguilla first, and said he hasn’t heard any complaints about its arrival time from Road Town residents.
However, at least two members of the UK parliament have been critical of the government's response time.
BBC news reported Saturday that MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, and MP Stephen Twigg, head of the international development committee, sent a letter to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Development Secretary Priti Patel addressing their concerns.
“Experts and many in the area have been critical of the overall level of relief currently on offer as well as the apparent lack of forward-thinking once the storm's route to Florida became more than just a possibility," stated the letter.
BBC news said Mr. Johnson shot back that the UK's response was “very good” and explained that the heavy winds made it a challenge to deliver aid.
Attempts to interview others in the Virgin Islands have been unsuccessful at this time.
In a public press release Thursday, Queen Elizabeth II said she was “shocked and saddened” by the extensive damage.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed or adversely affected is terrible storm,” she stated. “Please convey my gratitude and good wishes to members of the emergency services and to those who are working on the rescue effort at this very difficult time for you all.”
There have been no reports on whether members of the Royal family plan to visit the affected areas.
The UK has currently pledged 32 million pounds in relief funding for British overseas territories.