Pum­melled US Vir­gin Is­lands marginalised in dis­as­ter cri­sis

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Oliver Laugh­land

If Irma hit like a right hook, then Maria was the sucker punch, bat­ter­ing is­landers while they were al­ready down. Around a month af­ter the first of two deadly hur­ri­canes col­lided with the US Vir­gin Is­lands, the re­cov­ery is still in its in­fancy.

Power lines droop over the main roads in Char­lotte Amalie, the ter­ri­tory’s cap­i­tal. More than half of the roof of Saint Thomas’s com­mer­cial air­port no longer ex­ists, re­placed with tarps. All the schools have been closed. About 90% of the ter­ri­tory has no power and most peo­ple no drink­ing wa­ter.

While the plight of neigh­bour­ing Puerto Rico, hit hard by Maria, prompted an out­cry in the face of a slow fed­eral re­cov­ery ef­fort, the cri­sis on the US Vir­gin Is­lands, home to 100,000 US ci­ti­zens, has had less fo­cus. The White House blamed “dif­fi­cult lo­gis­tics” for Don­ald Trump not stop­ping there on his trip to Puerto Rico last week. But last Fri­day vice-pres­i­dent Mike Pence flew into the ter­ri­tory’s sec­ond is­land of St Croix, where Maria hit hard­est. He said the ad­min­is­tra­tion “will be with you ev­ery day un­til the US Vir­gin Is­lands comes all the way back”.

The Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (Fema), the gov­ern­ment agency re­spon­si­ble for dis­as­ter man­age­ment, has be­gun to roll out in­spec­tion teams. But, said agency spokes­woman Re­nee Baf­fles, it had been “very dif­fi­cult” to reach all the re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. More than 14,600 is­landers have so far reg­is­tered for help with Fema.

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