Return to the BVI
Search and rescue volunteers from Serve On are heading back to the Caribbean, two years after the devastation of Hurricane Irma.
This time they will be taking precious communications equipment to give islanders a life-line in the event of future hurricanes.
The charity is looking for funding to enable its experts to deliver and to install the potentially life-saving radio kit.
Salisbury-based Serve On volunteers were among the first rescue workers to reach the British Virgin Islands after the communities there had been hammered by the 185mph winds of Category 5 storm Irma in September 2017.
They arrived to find scenes of chaos with islanders robbed of power, water and communications. Homes had been destroyed, roads had been washed away and ocean-going yachts had been sunk or tossed inland by the wind and the waves that had lashed the paradise islands and stripped them of all greenery.
Having cleared roads and assessed the needs of remote communities on the main island, Tortola, the Serve On volunteers pushed on to outlying Virgin Gorda where they used their portable filtration unit to provide clean drinking water for locals whose desalination plants had been smashed by the hurricane.
With no ‘phone or radio system left intact on the island, they also used their satellite communications to help the local recovery group set up and begin to get the island back on its feet.
Team members had to hunker down as Gorda was rocked by a second Category 5 hurricane – Maria – but once it had passed, and before they left, they helped to cut a path through dense vegetation to reach the top of Mount Gorda ready to site a future radio repeater station.
Now they are ready to return, to re-cut the path to the top of Mount Gorda and to install a portable digital VHF repeater and an FM broadcast system that can be taken down if islanders get warning of another killer storm.
The off-grid, solar-powered equipment can then be put back in place once any hurricane has passed, so that vital communications can quickly be restored.
The FM broadcast system will enable a radio station – VG Rock, based in the island’s capital, Spanish Town - to give islanders important weather and safety information, and public address messages, before and after a hurricane.
The digital VHF repeater station will link 70 VHF radios, donated by JVC Kenwood and located around the island at hurricane shelters and elsewhere. It will mean that people can communicate soon after a storm has subsided, assisting emergency services and recovery teams.
Islanders, with the support of the Virgin Island Search And Rescue team (VISAR), have raised some money themselves for the VG radio project and Superyacht Charities and Pinmar have generously donated money to help Serve On source and buy the equipment.
A number of flights have kindly been funded by Viking and BBC radio frequency engineer David Painter has been pivotal in helping to organise and test the equipment, but more funding is still needed for the £15,000 project to go ahead.
All of the kit has been built and tested in the UK and is ready to be flown to the British Virgin Islands where the Serve On team aims to install it and train locals how to use it.
Serve On Operations Manager Craig Elsdon said; “It will be good to return to Virgin Gorda to see the community back on its feet. It will be very different from when we last saw them two years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“We hope they never have to go through anything like that again but it is hurricane season again right now and we want to help them to be prepared this year and in future years.
“We have worked with a lot of people to get this project ready in order to enable a very resilient community to look after itself if the worst happens. I know every penny we can raise to make this happen will be massively appreciated by the wonderful people there.”