A police officer in Preston has spoken of how she spent weeks in the Caribbean to help in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.Advertisement
PC Julie Stewart, who is usually helping police the bars and clubs of the city in her licensing role, was asked to go on secondment.
She was one of a number of officers from across the UK who were sent to the island of Tortola on the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
She said: “I do a fair bit of over-time and when the note came round I just assumed it would be the usual trip to Burnley or Manchester.
“But no this was how do you fancy going to the Caribbean for a few weeks to be part of the team putting the place back together.”
PC Stewart flew out and found herself guarding prisoners at hospital, locating and arresting prisoners that had been allowed to leave the islands prison and of course helping to rebuild after the devastation.
She said: “Many of the local police and their families had been affected by the devastation and we were there to support the BVI Police Force with regular Police duties whilst they rebuilt their homes and their lives. It was a daunting deployment but very rewarding.
“The tropical waves and hurricanes caused mass devastation. People were living with no electricity, no water and often had lost their entire homes and some family members. The island had little communications and the road infrastructure was severely damaged.”
“The police vehicles were all badly damaged with no sirens or lights and we had no working radios so we responded to calls via Whatsapp. It was a very different way of policing.
“The weather was either torrential tropical storms which caused landslides on the mountain roads or punishing heat with mosquitos biting constantly. I slept on a balcony on an army cot bed under a mosquito net which was an experience.”
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When the officers were not deployed on duty they spent their time volunteering.
PC Stewart said: “The schools were completely destroyed in the hurricanes so children were unable to use them so we helped by building walls, painting classrooms, putting windows in and on our last day the school opened. It was so rewarding to see the children back in school. We helped with aid convoys and the British Red Cross handing out clothing and medical supplies.”
“People had lost everything but they remained positive and happy just getting on with it. I learned a great deal from the islanders and made many life long friends.”
Going to the Caribbean has stirred PC Stewart to continue to help those affected by the hurricanes.
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She has been raising money for the Sponsor a Roof fund, having people from the island stay in the UK at Christmas and sending sports equipment over to a youth club.
She said: “The whole experience had changed my outlook on life. We don’t need possessions to make us happy and when you think the weather is bad here, we’re lucky that our homes haven’t completely disappeared.”