Braving storms in Belize to give the villagers shelter

27 September 2007
Former Hampstead School pupil, Alan Dwyer joined the Royal Navy as an engineer. He describes how he helped the people of Belize after Hurricane Dean

devastated their homes and villages

Hurricane Dean, the first of the season, entered the Caribbean with us following behind, ready to go to the aid of British dependencies in the area.

It passed by Jamaica and Grand Cayman Islands, sparing them a direct hit. But it then headed on towards Belize on the Yucatán Peninsular.

The afternoon after the hurricane passed, a command team from RFA Wave Ruler and HMS Portland flew ashore to assess the damage and to liaise with the local authorities. That evening I was informed I would be in charge of the first team to be sent ashore giving assistance where needed.

Luckily there were no major casualties and no electrical hazards. We were to assist in repairing roofs of damaged houses and provide temporary shelter until the local authorities could carry out more permanent work.

Due to the reefs that shield the coast we had to fly to shore. It was my first time in a Lynx helicopter and as we flew in we could see the damage the winds had caused.

It was a 30 minute journey to the village of Xaibe, where the shore HQ had been established at the village school. HMS Portland had also started sending teams ashore.

Our four man team was dispatched to the villages of Cristo Rey and Yo Chen, to the west, where six houses had been damaged by the winds. We were introduced to the vice chairwoman of the village and were taken to the first house.

Tools and tarpaulin in hand, we set to work. It wasn't long before the men of the village appeared and assisted. The locals were very positive and it was hard to believe they had just been through a hurricane.

The houses were not much more than four walls and a roof, made of the materials available. Very little shade was available and the sun was fierce, we all welcomed the short rain showers that we had. Dehydration was a problem and everyone had to keep drinking plenty of water.

Around noon the women of the village appeared with food for all. Even with their limited supplies, they made sure that we were fed.

After five hours in the sun we had completed the roof and moved to the next house. A team had arrived from Portland to lend a hand and we proceeded from home to home.

Our final house of the day belonged to a family with seven children, everyone helped and we were able to recover the whole roof before heading back to the HQ for the night, some hot food, drinks and some rest.

Cots were set up to sleep on the porch of the school, and that night there was a heavy downpour, but we knew that the people we helped would have a dry night.

Another early start had us sent to the village of Chan Chen, to the east, where we had the morning to replace another roof before being relieved to return to the ship.

Driving along the roads in a four-tonne truck, everyone would wave as we passed and to see their smiling faces made us all forget our fatigue and believe what we were able to accomplish was worth it.

Three teams were sent ashore from the ship to assist in different areas and we all returned safely. Morale was high throughout, everyone worked as a team and it was an experience none of us will ever forget.

We are now all back aboard ship, cleaned and rested, ready in case we are called upon again.