Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands with such force that very little was left standing and so many lives and homes were devastated. But what struck many of us has been the countless heartwarming stories of resilience and how the community rallied together to help each other. 

After hearing about the hurricane, we were all moved when John Ratliff –  a dear friend of Virgin Unite who has backed countless Virgin Unite initiatives and who sits on the advisory council for the Virgin Unite Community – decided to fly his plane to the BVI to personally help out. 

Read the Virgin Unite blog: It will take years to recover, but it will recover

John was the first person I heard from after Hurricane Irma hit. He sent me a text asking about all our mutual friends who work on Necker and Moskito islands. He’d heard from some of them and was trying to help all of us fill in missing information in the devastating days after the storm when communications were down and people still unaccounted for.

Just days later, John was loading up his plane to personally flying critical medical supplies, food, and building materials to the affected islands. John wanted to immediately help the people he cared about and many others who had been cut off from the rest of the world, the people who’d had their homes and lives demolished by the hammering rains and 200 mph winds. 

Virgin Unite, Irma, John Ratliff

“The BVI is my second home. I’ve made so many friends in the community. I’m lucky enough to have an asset to put into use when they needed my help. I couldn’t not do it”, said Ratliff.  Flying in as soon as the Tortola airport gave clearance, John’s plane was one of the first to arrive after the hurricane. The severity of devastation was clear to him as the islands came into view. “The thing that shook me the most was passing over Road Town - from the air it looked like a kid had piled his toy boats on top of each other. The steel beams of airport look like spaghetti, planes had been flipped over. Seeing it in person drove home the power of the hurricane. It’s amazing there were so few injuries and fatalities.” 

John shows the amazing impact one person can have in the face of a momentous challenge

John returned home and rallied fellow pilots to join the relief efforts. Five pilots sprung to action, picking up supplies, dropping them on the devastated islands and returning with medical evacuees. John personally flew 36 legs in 17 days. Initially stocking up with supplies in Puerto Rico, the pilots changed their route as Hurricane Maria hit. Restocking in Ft. Lauderdale and then running relief flights to San Juan as well as Tortola.The hospitals were just as devastated by the first ever category 7 hurricane as the rest of the community and medical evacuations were also a part of John’s plan. 

Virgin Unite, Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Irma

John flew a 15-year-old boy with congenital illness, permanently on a respirator, from his home in Puerto Rico to his Aunt’s house in the US. A girl needing a fully functional hospital to maintain her leukaemia treatments and an elderly man who suffered a stroke during the hurricane were also among those John evacuated. In the face such hardships, John was encouraged by the resilience he saw in the communities – neighbours taking care of one another and their ability to be positive about the future. 

“It was a horrible event but there will be opportunities to modernize structures making them safer and greener. This is a chance for the BVI to get a clean start - that’s encouraging, businesses will come back stronger.” 

John is the last person who would want credit for his efforts, yet another reason I’m thankful to count him as a friend and a part of the Virgin Unite community. John shows the amazing impact one person can have in the face of a momentous challenge, encouraging us all to apply our own unique gifts to changing the unacceptable for good. 

 To help further support the affected communities please donate to the BVI Community Support Appeal and help us build a better, cleaner, stronger and more sustainable Caribbean region.