Full extent of impact hard to know due to downed cellphone towers but early reports suggest extensive damage.
As Hurricane Irma continues to churn toward the U.S. mainland, it is tearing through the Caribbean in a way that has destroyed many islands travelers know and love.
First came Barbuda. Then St. Maarten. Then the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most recently came word that the British Virgin Islands, an archipelago that includes popular destinations such as Tortola and Virgin Gorda, also has taken a devastating hit that officials said has crippled the territory’s infrastructure.
Adding insult to injury, Director of Tourism Sharon Flax-Brutus said felled cell phone towers and power outages are combining to make it difficult to receive communication from the islands and fully assess the damage.
“The destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands has been devastating,” Flax-Brutus said in an official statement Thursday. “The destination has lost entire structures and many homes are without roofs, or have been diminished to merely foundations. Sadly, there may have been fatalities in the territory, but there are none confirmed at this time, as we are still in the assessment process, which has been a challenge due to lack of communication.”
Early images and reports were not good. The US National Hurricane Center said the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over the British Virgin Islands with winds of up to 110 mph. Images from Tortola and Virgin Gorda show boats lined up like matchsticks, and entire hotels leveled like Lincoln Log-cabins.
Even billionaire Richard Branson's private island was impacted; a report out of the UK indicated Branson rode out the storm from his wine cellar on his private island in the territory. Branson’s son, Sam, was there with his father and Instagrammed a number of photos of the devastation from multiple BVI islands. May of the shots depict piles of rubble where structures once stood.
The BVI government has begun to coordinate humanitarian relief efforts and an initial clean-up operation. Flax-Brutus noted that the UK government is sending Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to offer relief and support, and said the ship was expected to arrive sometime today.
As part of the recovery effort, the BVI government set up a special fund to which outsiders can donate. To contribute, text “BVI” to 707070 or click here. You can read Director of Tourism Sharon Flax-Brutus's full statement below:
“The destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands has been devastating. With cell phone towers down and power outages, it has been difficult to receive communication from within the territory, and to fully assess the damage. The destination has lost entire structures and many homes are without roofs, or have been diminished to merely foundations. Sadly, there may have been fatalities in the territory, but there are none confirmed at this time as we are still in the assessment process, which has been a challenge due to lack of communication.
"The Government has begun to coordinate humanitarian relief efforts and an initial clean-up operation. We received word that the UK government is sending Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to offer relief and support, hopefully arriving tomorrow, September 8th.
"Hurricane Jose, a Category 3 storm, is slated to reach the destination this weekend, so we are doing our best to make sure people in the BVI are making safety a priority.
"Please keep your thoughts and prayers with the people of the BVI, and send donations to the BVI Recovery Fund, set up on behalf of the government, in partnership with Pledgeling.
"We want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support for the BVI community. The people of the British Virgin Islands are resilient and we are confident we will be able to rebuild.”