VIRGIN GORDA, British Virgin Islands (CMC) — A senior British Virgin Islands (BVI) government official is encouraging non-nationals, who can’t find work after the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, to leave the British Overseas Territory.
Vincent Wheatley, the Sister Islands Programme Coordinator in Deputy Governor’s Office, made the call even as several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals, including those from St Vincent and the Grenadines and Guyana, were among other non-BVI nationals being housed in a community centre that had been stripped of its roofing shingles.
The building is at risk of being flooded if it rains, as only the woodwork on the roof, which was damaged in some areas, is protecting the occupants of the shelters from the elements.
Wheatley told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that about 100 people remain in shelters on the island, which has a population of 3,500, a large number of who are expatriates.
A Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA) team deployed to do rapid needs assessment on Virgin Gorda on Tuesday found that between 70 and 80 per cent of the housing stock was destroyed or damaged so badly that they are uninhabitable.
Wheatley said that so far, there have been daily evacuations mainly to America and European countries, through helicopter service and a boat service to Puerto Rico.
“We’ve had none to the Eastern Caribbean countries because LIAT hasn’t been able to fly but we have been told that by Thursday or Friday of this week, LIAT plans to start the service to like Antigua and St Vincent and the rest of the Caribbean,” he said.
“We are going to encourage all nationals who can’t survive here, who can’t find work to please go back to your respective countries and come back at a later date. Those who are willing to stick it out with us, we encourage those able bodied persons to please stay and help us rebuild,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley, who has general governmental responsibilities on the islands outside of Tortola — mainly Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Enegada — told CMC that Virgin Gorda has been totally “demolished” by Hurricane Irma.
“It’s the worst thing we have seen in a very long time. One word describes Virgin Gorda right now: catastrophic.”
Irma has been blamed for the loss of five lives in the BVI, but Wheatley said there were no deaths in Virgin Gorda and no major injuries.
The clinic on the island is functioning even as the authorities acknowledge there has been extensive damage to buildings all over the island
“A lot of folks are without homes, a lot of folks have lost all their possessions, including myself,” he said, noting however there is still a lot of food and water, thanks to their partners, who are donating.
Two shelters are operating, one at the Methodist Church in North Sound and the Catholic Community Centre in The Valley.
“But since the hurricane, we have had to build some new, makeshift shelters,” Wheatley told CMC, adding “it’s been a very difficult and challenge sing week, because, from Tuesday last week, the day before the hurricane, we had no telecommunication.
“We’ve had absolutely no communication with any other entity in the BVI. So we have had absolutely no governmental support. Being totally cut off, we organised ourselves into a group, a community group.”
Wheatley chairs the group and there are 12 subcommittees, looking at things like electricity restoration, shelters, food distribution, and acquiring food from outside the jurisdiction.