A DURHAM Constabulary officer who travelled to the hurricane hit British Virgin Islands to help with the relief effort has described it as ‘the toughest and most humbling job he has ever done.’
The islands were devastated after two category five storms ripped through in the space of two weeks, destroying homes and businesses and leaving lives shattered.
Inspector Dave Barker and his Durham Constabulary colleagues PC Steve Minns and PC Gary Thompson volunteered to help with the relief effort, along with 50 other officers from across the UK.
Speaking about this experience, Insp Barker, who is normally based in Darlington, said: “This was an amazing experience for me. It was the toughest and most humbling job I have ever done but I came away knowing I had achieved the reason I went out there and made a difference to the police and people of the British Virgin Islands.”
After flying out from RAF Brize Norton the officers spent almost four weeks stationed in Tortola – the largest of the British Virgin Islands – where they helped the island’s police maintain law and order.
They also supported the local community by rebuilding schools and erecting tents for those who had been made homeless.
“What we were greeted with I could never have imagined. The total destruction was clear to see – as we left Beef Island airport, everyone fell silent,” said Insp Barker.
“The drive to our accommodation was a humbling experience. Everything was smashed, including houses, cars and boats. The land looked like brown match sticks which had once been lush green trees and forest.”
“There was a good community spirit and we were well welcomed,” added Insp Barker. “But it was evident that a lot of people – including local police officers – were suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
“They had lost everything. Some officers were living with their families at the police station as their homes had been devastated.
“We lived in appalling conditions for our 26 days, but this was minimal compared to what the locals had to endure.
“The island will recover, but the reality in my opinion is that this will take at least a couple of years. They have no power and rely on generators, water supply is temperamental, sewage is overflowing and roads verging on impassable.
“That is before buildings are rebuilt or repaired and people’s lives are put back together.”