Hurricane Irma survivors greet British volunteers with tears: ’I thought we would all die’


More than 30 members of the British charity Team Rubicon, staffed mainly by military veterans, took part in the rescue effort. 

While the Government’s £32million aid effort is targeted at the main areas of devastation, Rubicon were the first to arrive at the tiny Caribbean island of Virgin Gorda. 

“We were welcomed with open arms,” said Lizzy Stileman, a former major with the Royal Logistic Corps. 

“At one stage I had a woman sobbing in my arms. She’d been alone with her 12 grandchildren when the hurricane struck and she was sure they were all going to die. 

“The devastation here is unrelenting – miles upon miles of debris, without a single leaf left on any of the remaining trees. 

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More than 30 members of the British charity Team Rubicon took part in the rescue effort

We were welcomed with open arms

Lizzy Stileman

“Cars, trucks, air-conditioning units, super yachts, speed boats, are all randomly scattered across the island.

“The marinas have boats floating upside-down, masts broken and some stacked on top of each other.

“The hills have cars hanging off the sides of the steep slopes.

“Roads have been washed away and telegraph poles lie scattered at different angles with wires hanging perilously from them.” 

The first task was to get the island’s water purification system working again. 

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Volunteer Lizzy Stileman handing out drinking water to survivors among the devastation

“This required a concerted effort to search for fuel to run the filtration system,” said Lizzy. 

At a clinic in North Sound, they found Rosalind Daisy, a nurse who was alone in her home when Irma hit, smashing the windows and tearing off parts of the roof. 

When the storm passed, Daisy stitched up about 40 people who had been injured by flying debris, working by torchlight in horrendous conditions. 

One of the team’s main tasks was to venture into the most inhospitable parts of the island to carry out crucial assessments. 

In one area, they discovered every desalination plant was beyond repair. 

They alerted authorities and then repaired a bin lorry to begin the task of removing rubbish, which is key to preventing disease. 

In another area people were short of drinking water. 

With help from Richard Branson’s Necker Island staff the team formed a human chain to unload three boatloads of supplies from Puerto Rico. 

A third team distributed drinking water. 

“It was clear that word had travelled and people were queueing up to bottle the water,” said Lizzy. 

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Homes and cars wrecked by the hurricane

More than 2,000 litres were given out in one day. In the evening, eight Royal Marines arrived to help with nighttime patrols. 

“This came with a sigh of relief from the locals. There has been low-level looting at night,” said Lizzy. 

The team had barely slept or washed in eight days. 

“There hasn’t been an opportunity to wash ourselves or our clothes and underwear is now on the inside-out and back-to-front stage.” 

The team are expected to remain on the island for another week. 

To donate to the charity go to teamrubiconuk.org.

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