Naval aviators were airborne at dawn 21 September for the first overall look at the damage caused on the British Virgin Islands by Hurricane Maria.
The storm, which hit the British territory yesterday, was the second Category Five hurricane to strike in a fortnight.
The archipelago was hit head-on by Irma and her winds of over 150 mph. Maria skirted the islands, which were still subjected to winds in excess of 60mph and torrential rain falling at the rate of an inch in three hours at its worst.
When the wind and rain had died down sufficiently, Royal Marines of 40 Commando were out clearing roads and surveying the damage to determine where aid should be provided.
But with the return of support ship RFA Mounts Bay to the islands after several days providing aid to Turks and Caicos islanders 500 miles away, there’s also additional air power in the form of the ship’s Wildcat helicopter.
Normally based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, the state-of-the-art aircraft is assigned to Mounts Bay for the duration of her Caribbean deployment, locating illegal drugs farms in remote areas of British territories.
When the disaster relief mission swung into action, the Wildcat flew several tonnes of water to cut-off communities, delivered food and emergency supplies and ferrying troops around the many islands.
At first light today – around 11am in the UK – the Wildcat lifted off the deck of Mounts Bay, located just off the capital Road Town, to carry out a reconnaissance sortie to assess any further damage or problems caused by Maria, in particular on the outlying islands of Jost van Dyke and Virgin Gorda.
Both were hit hard by Irma. Both received help from the British military in the storm’s immediate aftermath. Once the team on Mounts Bay learn what the islanders need, they will fly it in.
Further support will be on hand from Friday morning when HMS Ocean – crammed with supplies from the governments of the UK and Gibraltar – arrives off Tortola.
As well as landing craft, she carries nine helicopters which will take the military aid effort to the next level.