Saving lives in the hurricane-hit Caribbean

For most people a trip to the British Virgin Islands would be about relaxing on a paradise beach.

But for Fylde-based police officer Ed Impett, it was about saving lives.

PC Ed Impett with his work partner from the BVI police force

PC Ed Impett with his work partner from the BVI police force

He has just returned from a month-long mission to help the tiny British overseas territory in the Caribbean recover after being battered by two hurricanes in September.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the islands, destroying homes, schools and roads.

Ed, who lives in Poulton and works as a PC in Fleetwood, was among four officers from Lancashire who made the trip to help out in the island’s time of need.

They joined a 56-strong group of UK police officers sent out to help the community get back on his feet.

Although their initial role was to help support the local police – whose officers were among those to have their lives turned upside down by the storms – Ed found himself delivering aid and helping to rebuild schools during his time there.

Having just returned home, he said: “Initially we were tasked with restoring law and order as following Hurricane Irma there was a lot of looting, and a lot of the local officers had lost their own homes.

“But in between shifts we delivered aid and helped out painting a primary school.

“In Tortola, the high school had been destroyed by the hurricane so a warehouse was converted into a temporary school.

“We helped to convert it and divide it up into classrooms. It was hard going due to the heat and conditions.”

Their work was not without its challenges – but the officers drew strength from the resilience of the local community they were there to help.

“Sanitation was very poor and we stayed in a partially destroyed hotel, three to a room” he recalled. “There was no electricity and we were supplied with bottled water, and just had army ration packs when we arrived.

“The temperature was in the mid 30s every day and we were working in full police kit. There were pools of sewage on the roads and mosquitoes everywhere.

“But it is one of the best things I have done in my life, and a total privilege to go out there. Some people had literally lost everything, including some of the BVI police.

“They had gone through such trauma but still turned up for work. On my first day I was with a local female police officer and she took me halfway up a mountain to see her sister. She had 18-month-old twins and was living in one room in the house, but she was smiling and happy.”

The officers helped deliver supplies from aid organisations including the Red Cross and Unicef.

Factfile

When the BVI took the full force of Hurricane Irma on September 6, it was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, with winds that averaged 185mph, gusting to 215mph.

Less than two weeks later, the islands were hit for a second time by Hurricane Maria.

Roads were torn up and boats and cars were tossed into the air.

Trees were stripped of all their leaves.

While the immediate crisis has now been dealt with, there is still a lot of work to be done before the islands return to the tropical paradise they once were.