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Commandos face race against time to prepare Caribbean islands for Hurricane Maria

Op Ruman
19 September 2017
Commandos are working against the clock to ensure hurricane-hit Britons can withstand the next potentially-lethal storm to strike the Caribbean.

Hurricane Maria - with winds of 155mph - is expected to bulldozer through the British Virgin Islands in the small hours of Wednesday and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Friday.

Homes, public utilities and buildings were left in ruins on both British Overseas Territories by Hurricane Irma less than a fortnight ago.

The two island chains have received extensive help from all three of Britain's Armed Forces, with the troops of the Lead Commando Group, 40 Commando from Norton Manor near Taunton, heavily engaged on each archipelago, delivering emergency supplies, restoring vital services, helping to restore law and order and repairing buildings.

Over the past 24 hours, their efforts have been concentrated on ensuring the relief mission - and the equipment supporting it, such as heavy plant and helicopters - can withstand or avoid the battering Maria is expected to bring.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Maynard, 40 Commando's Commanding Officer and the man in charge of the effort on the ground in the British Virgin Islands, said his men and women were prepared to ride out the storm with locals.

"We are not going anywhere," he stressed. "It would be immoral and the wrong thing to do to leave these people to face this tragedy without us."

We are not going anywhere. It would be immoral and the wrong thing to do to leave these people to face this tragedy without us

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Maynard, Commanding Officer of 40 Commando Royal Marines

Brigadier John Ridge, deputy commander of the joint task force, added: "Once the hurricane is through we can leap back into action - we've got the guys positioned in the right place so they are ready to react."

To that end, 40 Commando and the Royal Engineers of 24 Commando Regiment have been prepared the islands' defences, clearing drains to prevent flash flooding, moving helicopters and aircraft away from the danger zone, shoring up power and water pumping stations and making sure the airport - the BVI's vital link with the outside world, not least the hub of the British relief effort in Barbados - is as secure as possible.

Another key location which has been secured is the police station in Road Town on Tortola, which has acted as the command centre for the military operation in the islands.

A team of assault engineers led by Colour Sergeant John Dixon have strengthened doors and fixed the roof. "Ensuring the headquarters can function after the storm is crucial," said the senior NCO. "My team are fit for purpose to do this."

Equally important has been ensuring locals have the food and water supplies they need to ride out Maria.

Royal Marines joined members of the British Red Cross in getting shelter packs, water, tinned food, cereal, toiletries and baby care handed out to as many Tortolans as possible before a pre-storm curfew came into force.

"Each day presents us with new challenges," said Marine Louis McKenna. "It's really important we get this distributed before nightfall and get the message out about the next storm."

Among those waiting for aid was 75-year-old Marlyn Harvey, whose home was wrecked by Irma. She struggled two kilometres to the aid distribution point - and asked for a ride back with the marines, who obliged.

"Mrs Harvey summed up the attitude of so many of the people across these islands," said Captain George Eatwell RM.

"Despite losing almost every material possession, the fact she is still alive and has her family around her is more than enough for her. Her positive outlook is humbling."

As the marines dropped her off at her temporary shelter with her aid supplies, Mrs Harvey was full of praise for the British relief effort: "Pass my thanks to the Queen, boys!"

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