West storm force

West Country troops were last night spearheading Britain’s massive relief effort across a Caribbean laid waste by Hurricane Irma.

Service men and women from North Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Plymouth and Cornwall were all involved in the drive to deliver aid to the ravaged region.

Almost 500 British troops have been deployed.

And one of them vowed to “stay as long as it takes”.

Making the pledge, Stephen Norris, the commanding officer of RFA Mounts Bay, described scenes of devastation on the British Virgin Islands as military teams carried out relief work.

Speaking from the vessel, which is stationed off Road Town in the British Virgin Islands, Capt Norris said: “I haven’t seen anything on the scale of what we have seen here.”

The captain responded to criticism that Britain had been too slow in providing relief to the area, saying: “We were here, we were on task, we were right behind Irma.”

Devonport-based HMS Ocean is heading towards the disaster zone while helicopters from RNAS Yeovilton’s 815 Squadron were delivering aid.

The Ministry of Defence said there are just under 500 troops in the region, made up of marines, engineers, medics and specialists, including Army and RAF personnel.

Army soldiers have deployed from RFA Mounts Bay to the British Virgin Islands, while an A400 flight brought a further 50 marines.

The hurricane weakened to category three yesterday as it battered the north coast of Cuba.

But it was expected to regain its strength before hitting the Florida Keys this morning with 110mph winds.

Following criticism of the Government’s response to the disaster, ministers announced a £32 million relief package and pledged to double any public donations to the British Red Cross appeal for victims of Hurricane Irma, up to £3 million.

Irma claimed at least 20 lives, including at least four in the British Virgin Islands and one each on Anguilla and Barbuda, and left thousands of people homeless when it smashed into the region on Wednesday.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.