A chef stranded on the British Virgin Island of Tortola has spoken of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma.
Much of the British Overseas Territory is experiencing a communications blackout after power lines were severed, leaving a torturous wait for those desperate to hear from their friends and loved ones.
Hubert Haciski, who is sheltering in the toilets of a hotel damaged by the storm, has intermittent wifi and spoke to HuffPost UK. The 26-year-old said: “The town is destroyed and food supplies are running low. The island has no power and everyone is relying on generators.
“The roofs have blown off most of the buildings and I saw people running around with wounds, there are fatalities.”
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He added: “People are looking for food. There is a big list of people missing. Communication is at a minimum. Digicel/Flow are working on the connections. Seems like goverments are unable to communicate and every update is being very slow.
“The island will run out of stock. People are concerned about Hurricane Jose. The BVI need help. There is currently no way in or out. Some parts are totally down and destroyed. Teams are not able to pass over the mountain.”
Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, who rode out the storm at his home on private Necker Island, which is part of the chain of 60 islands, said entire houses had disappeared and the area is “completely and utterly devastated.”
But while Branson has been able to communicate via satellite phone, much of the islands remain cut off and a state of emergency has been declared by Governor Gus Jaspert.
Describing himself as “truly heartbroken” Governor Jaspert said: “My thoughts and prayers are with each and every one of you. I would like to appeal to you to remain calm and to reassure you that we are doing all that we can to assist you.”
UK foreign minister Alan Duncan said: “The British Virgin Islands were also not spared the hurricane’s full force. Our initial assessment is of severe damage and we expect that the islands will need extensive humanitarian assistance which we will of course provide.”
Soph Stewart, who is also on Tortola, said: “The level of destruction and damage is atrocious. We are not getting the media coverage we need to in order to receive enough aid. Most of the island is totally destroyed, hospitals are overrun and lots of people are still missing, without word for two days now.”
Owen Buggy, a photographer who lived in the BVI for three years and is now based in the UK, told HuffPost UK: “Probably half the people I know haven’t been accounted for. It has a huge amount of expats in it. Everyone I’ve spoken to is really upset and confused.
“You only get snippets (of news) because any power keeps dropping out. But there are large areas where no one has heard from anyone, it’s a blackout.
“I know people who have lost businesses, houses, boats, everything.
“Virgin Gorda has gone totally dark – that’s a big island and no one has heard anything from anyone.”
Buggy is scathing about the UK government’s response, describing it as “really poor.”
He added: “It was going to happen, the aid ships should have been on the way before it started, they should have landed satellite phones on the island in advance of this and had the ships and the support and the aid ready immediately.”
Lynette Lock has not yet heard from her son Darren Fry, who is captain of a daily charter catamaran in Tortola.
She told HuffPost UK: “We are frantic, everyone is in a complete panic. The whole island has been decimated. We don’t know if the house is even still standing.
“We’re seeing pictures of Richard Branson in his wine cellar but no one is telling us what is happening on the island.”
The UK government has faced withering criticism over its slow response. A military task force is now in the Caribbean to help tackle the disaster and HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy’s flagship, is leading a group of helicopters, marines and engineers dispatched to the region.
At least 21 people are known to have been killed in the hurricane so far, though that figure is certain to rise as relief efforts get underway.
Members of a British Virgin Islands Facebook page have built a safety check feature to help friends and families post the status of loved ones in the region. Visit it here.