Bermuda’s troops got to work as soon as they arrived in hurricane-hit Turks & Caicos, the commander on the ground said yesterday (MON). Major Corey Smalley explained the RBR contingent had helped build a logistics base for the World Food Programme on Providenciales while waiting for an airlift to Grand Turk at the other end of the island chain.
Maj. Smalley, Executive Officer of the Regiment, said the troops were now in Grand Turk and working hard to help repair the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Irma, while bracing themselves and the local population for an expected hit from Hurricane Maria on Friday.
And they are fighting searing temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit and plagues of mosquitoes – made worse by a lot of standing water after Irma hit, while there is no running water or flushing toilets.
The RBR soldiers, who flew out on a RAF transport plane last Friday, are living in the main airport on Grand Turk, sleeping on the terminal floor without running water or air conditioning and existing on bottled water and field rations.
Maj. Smalley said: “I’ve lived in some inhospitable places, but last night was pretty unbearable.”
But he added the Bermuda contingent had been welcomed with open arms by Grand Turk residents.
Maj. Smalley said: “The reaction to the Bermudians being back on the island after we helped after Hurricane Ike nine years has been really positive. When our soldiers are out and about the people speak very highly of the troops who were here in 2008.
“We’re here once again to help out one of our sister islands and they’re so grateful to see us here. It’s not great conditions, but our troops are still pushing out 12-hour days.”
The 30-strong group of soldiers have been working to fix the severely damaged EL Simons Primary School on Grand Turk.
Maj. Smalley said: “Our soldiers have been at the school all day and the troops have done a great job clearing out the building, removing rubble and trying to make the building as safe as possible so kids can get back to school.”
Maj. Smalley said: “The new-type buildings have suffered a little bit of damage, but older ones with wooden structures and roofs have been hit very hard and people can’t live in them.
“The local population is in dire need of food and clean water. The majority of the island is without power and running water and that’s caused problems because no one has flushing toilets or clean drinking water. Half of the operation is focused on food and water distribution points with supplies flown in by air or transported on boats.
“The other side is assessment, stabilisation and reconstruction of key places like schools and Government administration buildings – that’s the main effort of the Royal Engineers and the RBR.”
Maj. Smalley added that the troops were also working to find a safe place for the local population and the RBR to “hunker down” before Hurricane Maria hits on Friday morning.
He added: “We’ll then sort out our equipment and get back into the community to help them out.”