The way British troops got stuck into the task of helping with relief efforts after Hurricane Irma unleashed devastation across the Caribbean is “extraordinary”, a UK commander has said.
Brigadier John Ridge, who has been coordinating the Joint Task Force, said he predicts the military footprint in the region will begin to scale back once HMS Ocean arrives this weekend.
Talking to the Press Association he said the thing which has affected him most is the “staggering resilience” of those who have had their lives turned upside down by the hurricane, but have worked to repair their communities.
“But what has hugely impressed me is the British forces out here as well,” he added.
“The way they have just got stuck in has been extraordinary and to go and see the Royal Marines and Royal Engineers out in some pretty unpleasant conditions – just digging out, cleaning stuff up, helping distribute aid and enjoying doing it.
“I think it is incredible to go and see young soldiers, young marines, young sailors, young airman, interacting and doing amazing stuff and not because they’re told to, because they want to.
“That for me gives me tremendous pride. For them it has been a hugely rewarding experience.”
More than 1,100 British troops are currently deployed across the region, and the Joint Task Force is covering an operation area the size of around 1,000 miles – stretching from Barbados to Turks and Caicos.
HMS Ocean, which is carrying another 60 tonnes of aid to add to the 60 tonnes which has already arrived and been distributed, is set to arrive this weekend.
Brig Ridge said he thinks the arrival of HMS Ocean will be the “high water mark”, and that the “largest military footprint” following the category five storm will begin to scale back from there.
“I suspect we will be gradually drawing down pretty much after she has arrived. I sense we will start talking about pulling back some of the military forces,” he said.
“Because at that stage, first of all the UK civilian, FCO and DFID numbers will have grown considerably and also I think, most importantly, the local government structures will be back to normal.
“Don’t forget these are people who were dragging themselves out of the rubble of their houses, so you shouldn’t expect them to be up and running in seven days. That is why we have come in, in that intermediate, to beef up those structures.
An update on the UK Government's ongoing response to help those affected by Hurricane Irma in the Overseas Territories. pic.twitter.com/76WWAmSGZe— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) September 15, 2017
“But we are already seeing it. In Providenciales, already they are tweeting about getting the hotel open, so taking bookings for October. They’re already thinking about the next step.
“That is why I think I can see, relatively quickly, the requirement for military to decline because all the normal structures will be in place.”
Brig Ridge said the damage “varies tremendously” across the three overseas territories, adding that Tortola is particularly bad, but that on Anguilla and Turks and Caicos there is “a lot of destruction”.
He said the scale of the damage “just makes the mechanics” of coordinating the first response in the days after the storm “really complicated and long-winded”.