HMS Manchester has arrived off the coast of the Caribbean island of St Lucia to provide immediate support for the areas devastated by Hurricane Tomas.
The Type 42 destroyer arrived in Soufriere on Tuesday 2 November 2010, following the request for help and yesterday managed to reach the remote village of Morne Fond St Jacques by helicopter, providing essential electricity, water and food.
The stricken village, on the slopes of Soufriere volcano, had become impassable for emergency vehicles due to a mudslide which destroyed the main access routes and caused houses and buildings to collapse.
The 300 villagers had been without running water, electricity or sanitation systems since the Hurricane hit on 31 October 2010.
A rescue party of 20 sailors from HMS Manchester worked through the night to assess the possibility of casualties, count the number of missing people, and reassure the villagers that more help was on its way.
Engineers immediately set up generators and connected lighting for those living in the temporary accommodation, while medics carried an elderly woman in her eighties over rough ground from her collapsed home to the temporary site for immediate care.
Each villager was fed a hot meal for the first time in nearly four days and power was connected to the local hospital where the generators had run out of fuel. HMS Manchester’s teams are also helping the main town of Soufriere by supplying a shuttle service to allow 1,500 people access to clean drinking water.
On Wednesday, 3 November 2010, a second team of sailors began carrying out search-and-rescue operation at a second mudslide site where three people have been reported missing. With further rain expected the possibility of further mudslides is increasing.
The ship has been working closely with the local medical services to ensure that the care of seriously ill patients is not compromised, with the helicopter remaining on standby to transport patients to the island’s main hospital if needed.
Speaking to Sky News’s Sarah Hughes last night, Commander Rex Cox, HMS Manchester’s Commanding Officer, said that when they had arrived on Tuesday the situation was “very confused”:
We were able to get in there and establish some liaison with the local authorities, and establish what needed to happen on the ground. There were a lot of mudslides, a lot of people missing and no food, no electricity, no water.
Over the course of the last 24 hours we’ve been able to assist the local authorities in stabilising that through the use of our helicopters and rescue teams on the ground, medical teams, providing water, restoring power generation and a bit of TLC for the population to get them to the position now where they’re pretty much able to start coping for themselves.
Cdr Cox added:
We’ve been able to put light rescue teams, heavy rescue teams for searching for personnel in buildings; we’ve had medical teams ashore, down to the very basics, providing water constantly throughout today, about 5,000-10,000 litres; getting a hot meal up to a village that was completely cut off, getting them power - they hadn’t had power in four days.
HMS Machester’s crew have also helped to clear away mud and fix the roof at the local hospital in Soufriere, making the facility usable again.
Cdr Cox said that the local authorities on St Lucia were now in a position to take over the relief operations, but the Hurricane could still pose danger to Caribbean territories:
We’ll be looking to withdraw some time this evening and then reposition, ready to support any of the other overseas territories in the wake of Hurricane Tomas, which, as you know, is still lurking in the middle of the Caribbean deciding what it wants to do with itself.
HMS Manchester is in the Caribbean region as part of her seven-month North Atlantic deployment. The ship’s main task is to provide support to the British Overseas Territories in the event of a natural disaster, but her priorities also include counter-narcotics operations.