Tonnes of emergency aid supplies were loaded yesterday on board a Royal Navy ship bound for the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas.
HMS Protector, the Navy’s Antarctic patrol ship, will stop off in the Bahamas with Royal Bermuda Regiment Colour Sergeant Sheldon Fox and National Disaster Co-ordinator Steve Cosham on board to deliver the massive amount of food, water, hygiene supplies, plywood and other donated items.
Colour Sergeant Fox, student Bandmaster with the RBR Band & Corps of Drums and also trained in disaster relief, said: “It’s a bit different from music, but it’s part of the versatility we offer to the country. I’m doing the management and handover of supplies in Bermuda and in the Bahamas to ensure it all gets to the right people.”
The 32-year-old former music teacher from Warwick, now a full-time soldier, added: “I wasn’t expecting to be doing this this weekend, but it’s the nature of the job; we serve the people. I’m looking forward to representing the regiment and Bermuda and helping where I can.”
Colour Sergeant Fox was speaking as sailors from HMS Protector stowed an estimated 100 tonnes of disaster relief supplies, donated by the Bermudian public and businesses over just one weekend, in its hold before it steams to the Bahamas today.
Small businesses with trucks and large companies volunteered their vehicles to transport donations from the main collection centre, at the Hamilton Seventh-day Adventist Church on King Street, to the dockside on Front Street.
Soldiers and volunteers had earlier stacked donated goods on pallets and secured them at the church, for easy loading on board HMS Protector, which stopped off in Bermuda en route for patrol duty in the South Atlantic.
Private Trent-ton Daniels, 22, who worked alongside Protector’s crew, said his civilian background as an employee at Price Rite in Spanish Point, meant he had experience of forklift trucks and pallet transport.
Pvt Daniels said: “The moment they asked me to do this, I was more than willing. I do it for my job and it’s great to do it for my country, and help out our sister islands as well.”
The Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama suffered massive damage after the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian slammed into them last Sunday and slowly crossed over northern Bahamian chain for four days.
The International Red Cross estimated this weekend that more than 70,000 people had been forced to flee their homes and that 45 per cent of homes in the devastated islands had been destroyed or severely damaged.
Captain Matt Syrett RN, the Commanding Officer of HMS Protector, said: “We’ve arrived in Bermuda at an opportune time and we’re delighted to be able to assist.
Captain Syrett added: “We could stay here and load much more because of the generosity of the Bermudian people, which has been very impressive.”
But he said the need for aid in the affected islands was so great, the ship would be most useful by getting assistance there as fast as possible.
Captain Syrett added that the response of the people of Bermuda had been “inspiring”.
He added: “The spirit of this island in helping another island ... is just amazing.”
Lieutenant-Colonel David Curley, the Commanding Officer of the RBR, said: “This is an excellent example of how the RBR can support the civil authorities and work with other armed forces in times of need, at home and abroad.
“I am very proud of all the soldiers who turned out at very short notice and threw themselves into the work with huge enthusiasm.”
Manai Roberts, of Smith’s-based MIR Trucking, was one of dozens who came forward to help transport tonnes of aid to thenavy ship.
Mr Roberts said: “I figured, at the end of the day, if something like that happened to our country, people would do the same for us. I just like to help people and I enjoy doing it.”
Lieutenant-Commander Robbie Nash added: “We’ve all seen in the press the devastation that Dorian caused and we’re very proud to be representing Bermuda, the UK Government and the Royal Navy. We’re glad to help out.”
John Rankin, the Governor and also the Commander-in-Chief of the RBR, dropped off his own donation at the church on Saturday and visited the massive military and civilian effort to pack and move aid supplies yesterday.
He said: “The people of Bermuda have been incredibly generous.
“I am grateful that HMS Protector, together with the Royal Bermuda Regiment and with support from the community and the City of Hamilton, are loading everything on the vessel so they can take it to the Bahamas and help those who so desperately need assistance.
“The international community, as a whole, is determined to help the Bahamas in its time of need and Bermuda is playing its part, in that effort. I hope all the material that is coming from here will help get people back on their feet and provide them with what they need to get them through the difficult days, weeks and months ahead.”
Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, said that more than 200 tonnes of goods had been collected since Friday and that 100 tonnes’ worth would depart today. Mr Caines said that work continued to determine when the additional goods would leave Bermuda.
He added: “By midweek, we should have an update.”
Mr Caines said that the people of Bermuda had come together and had emptied their homes and their hearts.
He added: “I am so excited to see the love that the people of Bermuda have shown. I am proud to be a be a Bermudian today. I know in my heart that we can do anything.
“This is an example of what we can do every day in our island home.”
Simone Smith-Bean, the chief co-ordinator of the Bahamian Association of Bermuda for the relief effort, thanked Bermuda for its “outpouring of love”.
She added: “We are so grateful for all of the support that you have given us over the past 48 hours.
“We are bubbling over with so much gratitude and so much respect for this island nation that has come to our aid at this time.”
Ms Smith-Bean said the volunteers who had given their time to the cause over the weekend were heroes.