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Newbury army veteran returns from assisting storm-battered islands

Norrie Bissett part of disaster response team dispatched to Caribbean

Newbury army veteran returns from assisting storm-battered islands

A NEWBURY army veteran has returned home after helping Caribbean islanders restore normality following the devastation of Hurricane Irma. 

Norrie Bissett arrived in the disaster zone just 48 hours after the category five storm hit the islands.

He was part of the first relief teams, made up of veterans, emergency responders and civilians, who focused their efforts on the severely-damaged British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos. 

But when Hurricane Maria, the second massive storm in less than two weeks, threatened to wreak havoc on already-battered communities, the teams switched rapidly to storm-proofing shelters, securing debris and making sure residents were as prepared as possible. 

Mr Bissett said that when he saw the devastation unfolding on the news, he knew he wanted to help.

“It was what I joined Team Rubicon for,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect and it was so positive to see all the good things going on out there.”

He also described local residents as “absolutely fantastic – they are really picking themselves up”.

Team Rubicon UK was set up in 2015 to harness the experience, endurance and practical skills of veterans and other professionals to deliver vital relief immediately after disasters.

In Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, Team Rubicon UK volunteers worked alongside other relief agencies, local authorities and residents to make shelters as safe as possible.

Mr Bissett has experience from the British Army and the fire service, and he is also trained in urban search and rescue.

While helping with the relief effort, he spoke to a tourist from Hawaii, who, instead of trying to get home, had stayed behind to help.

“She just started mucking in,” said Mr Bissett. “She wasn’t part of any organisation, she just wanted to help the locals.

“I thought it was really kind of her.” 

The British Virgin Islands escaped a direct hit from Maria, although heavy rain and gales caused flooding and damage to properties already hit by Irma.

Permanent secretary in the Office of the Premier in the British Virgin Islands Brodrick Penn said: “It’s extremely important to have strong international partners like Team Rubicon on the ground helping us here to provide aid.

“We have logisticians, we have disaster managers, we have everybody. They bring their expertise, they share it with us.

“We have our local knowledge.

“We put that all together and we have a winning combination.”

The scale of the devastation from Irma prompted Team Rubicon UK to expand its initial operation by sending an additional 38 volunteers to the region this week, making this its largest operation to date.

Team Rubicon UK has launched an emergency appeal to fund its work in the Caribbean.

Donations can be made at http://www.teamrubiconuk.org/donate/   

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