The devastation of Hurricane Irma is seen at Rhymers Beach Hotel in Cane Garden Bay, Tortola. Facebook photo

Social media leads communication updates after Hurricane Irma

Esquimalt woman said the Facebook group is ‘on fire’ as people search for word from loved ones in the Caribbean.

The power of social media is helping to connect victims of Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands and spreading word about the aid needed as search and recovery efforts get underway.

Hurricane Irma hit the group of 60 small islands in the Caribbean late Wednesday leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Tortola, the largest and most populated island has seen the most extensive damage.

“I’ve seen one photo with a house with a roof on it still,” said Jennifer Turnbull, an Esquimalt resident who lived and worked on Tortola for three years. Her brother BJ also called the island home for close to 12 years and the pair have been trying to make contact with friends still there.

Turnbull said there is a strong ex-pat community on the island, many of whom have ties to Victoria. Tortola has no fresh water source so reaching residents to provide aid is crucial. Turnbull said she heard word that people were taking shelter in their cisterns.

“Entire roads were washed away,” Turnbull said. “It’s a very mountainous island and everything is at sea level. Apparently there were 25 foot waves, the risk of a landslide is high. It’s all so open.”

The Facebook group BVI Abroad – Hurricane Irma already has 20,000 members and Turnbull said the group has been the best resource to keep people updated. A lot of information is third or fourth hand, Turnbull said, “but that’s better than nothing because nothing was coming from the country.”

“The situation is so desperate,” she said, adding there are reports that people have already run out of water, a prison was demolished, inmates had escaped and looting has begun.

On islands widely known for their stunning vacation locales, Turnbull isn’t worried about people who may have homes to go to in other countries.

“My big worry is the islanders living there that don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. “I really worry for the people who don’t have the money and the means to make contact.”

Sir Richard Branson, who owns Necker Island and survived the hurricane in his wine cellar, is covering the overhead costs for Virgin’s relief fund so 100 per cent of donations can go directly to the communities impacted. And VISAR (Virgin Islands Search and Rescue) has set up a page to help with their efforts supporting the emergency team running out of Peebles Hospital on Tortola.

The hurricane warning has been downgraded to a tropical storm watch as Hurricane Jose heads toward the Caribbean. There were five deaths reported in the British Virgin Islands and Turnbull said there are still a lot of people unaccounted for.

“I’m trying to remain positive,” Turnbull said. “The Facebook group is just on fire. Even in the best of times in the country, cell signals are choppy and communication can be a struggle there.”

But she’s already started to see a silver lining in the dark cloud of Irma. “Everyone’s concerned and really pulling together. The power of community is definitely uplifting right now.”

As of Saturday morning, 250 British Marine Commandos had landed in BVI and begun relief efforts on the ground.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Check out what’s happening in Greater Victoria this weekend

From swimming championships to Oak Bay Light Up, there’s plenty to keep you busy this weekend

VicPD chief rescues lost $10 bill in downtown Victoria

The note was promptly returned to its owner unharmed

Port Renfrew gets $89,000 grant to build staircase, trail

Rural Dividend grant awarded by province

Island champion volleyball team heads for provincials Wednesday

What Oak Bay High lacks in volleyball experience the make up for in athleticism and competitiveness

Duncan man faces numerous charges following Sooke Rd. crash

RCMP found alcohol and a loaded hand gun at the scene

Victoria Royals giving a boost to fund inspired by Tragically Hip singer

Downie Wenjack Fund recipient of funds raised starting at tonight’s WHL game vs. Seattle

BC Ferries vehicle traffic last summer was best ever

CEO says positive results reduce future pressure on fares

Dead rats on doorstep greets Summerland mayor

Two rodents have been delivered to Peter Waterman’s doorstep

False killer whale ‘Chester’ dies at Vancouver Aquarium

He was found stranded near Tofino in July 2014 and only had a 10 per cent chance of making it at the time

Panda picks Argonauts for the win

Giant panda at the Toronto Zoo picks Argos to win Grey Cup on Sunday

Black Friday fervour wanes as some consumers, retailers shun practice

Some businesses are choosing to opt out, while some shoppers are turning to buying online

Stay safe on B.C. roads this holiday season

RCMP warn drivers to plan a safe ride home or suffer the consequences this holiday season

Trudeau apologizes to excluded residential school students

PM makes statement to former students in Nfld who were left out of previous compensation, apology

Most Read