A Royal Canadian Navy frigate on station at the Turks and Caicos islands won’t be taking chances if Hurricane Maria arrives at their already storm-battered location — they’re ready to take action and avoid the incoming storm.
HMCS St. John’s is currently located off South Caicos Island as part of Operation Renaissance Irma, a Canadian Armed Forces mission to provide Hurricane Irma relief — but they may not be there for long.
Cmdr. Gord Noseworthy told The Canadian Press that the Halifax-based frigate is slated to depart South Caicos on Wednesday evening after its 230-member crew spent several days cleaning debris from streets, delivering water and helping restore power to the hurricane-ravaged island.
“The shift is quite honestly on preparing now for hurricane Maria and hoping that we can get them put into a better state, such that they can withstand that storm and hopefully not fall back right to where we found them five days ago,” Noseworthy said from aboard the ship, which was stationed four kilometres offshore.
Noseworthy, the ship’s commanding officer, said he plans to return to the island on Sunday, once Maria moves on.
Maria has developed into a Category 5 hurricane, bringing with it 260 km/h winds to regions of the Carribean.
It’s expected to hit Saint Croix and the rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands Tuesday night followed by Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
A turn toward the north is still expected later this week which could spare the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and the rest of the eastern seaboard as Maria would eventually veer back out to sea.
If Maria does hit Puerto Rico, it could be the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since at least 1932, and the U.S. National Hurricane Centre is warning of catastrophic damage from storm surge, winds, mudslides, and flooding.
The possible arrival of Maria hasn’t changed the crew’s mission.
Noseworthy said his crew has been helping to restore power and cleaning debris from the local school.
He said the power has been coming back online, residents now have water and there is cellphone coverage again.
When the ship arrived late last week, there was debris and power lines strewn across the streets, and many roofs had been ripped off of buildings, he said.
“It’s a state of disarray. There’s everything from aluminum roofs to siding. The aim now is to get all that cleaned up and secured prior to hurricane Maria, otherwise it can become flying projectiles with the next oncoming hurricane,” said Noseworthy, adding that much debris has been cleared since the navy arrived.
He said the ship is capable of turning salt water into fresh water, and about 10,000 litres of water has been delivered by helicopter and the crew is happy to help
“We are proud to be having a positive effect on the lives of those on the island of South Caicos,” wrote Capt. Matt Zalot in an email to Global News from aboard the ship.