U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands get­ting aid, but still reel­ing

Porterville Recorder - - FRONT PAGE - By BEN FOX and IAN BROWN

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands — The last of the late-sum­mer tourists were gone Wed­nes­day from the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, fer­ried away from the wreck­age of Hur­ri­cane Irma in cruise ships bound for Puerto Rico and Mi­ami. Most part-time res­i­dents — and any­one else who didn’t have to stay — had cleared out as well, back to homes on the main­land with wa­ter, power and in­ter­net, and where food isn’t scarce.

Those left be­hind on St. Thomas and St. John were surviving on what­ever they could find as they tried to re­pair or se­cure their houses with what­ever ma­te­ri­als were avail­able. They had to dodge downed power lines that snaked through hills that were a deep green be­fore the storm but now so stripped of leaves and trees that they are brown and des­o­late.

Many peo­ple were surviving on mil­i­tary ra­tions handed out by U.S. Marines and the Na­tional Guard or at a lo­cal church that is serv­ing 500 peo­ple a day.

“What I see are peo­ple com­ing who are hun­gry, who are tired, who are thirsty and need help,” said the Rev. Jeff Neevel, pas­tor of the St. Thomas Re­formed Church in the Vir­gin Is­lands cap­i­tal of Charlotte Amalie. “It’s a de­struc­tion zone. Ev­ery­thing is de­stroyed. Ev­ery­thing.”

His church got power Tues­day for the first time since the storm hit a week ear­lier, thanks to it be­ing des­ig­nated an of­fi­cial food dis­tri­bu­tion center. Neevel said one of the most crit­i­cal needs he sees is for tarps to pro­tect the many homes that have lost roofs.

Peo­ple are also des­per­ate for power and wa­ter so they can get back to work and re­turn to some sense of nor­malcy.

“The vil­lage where I live is dev­as­tated,” said Do­minique Olive from French Town on St. Thomas’ south­ern coast. “There are peo­ple I’ve known for many, many years. Ev­ery­thing they have is gone.”

Olive said there has been some “dis­gust­ing” loot­ing and des­per­a­tion but also hope­ful signs. “We are help­ing each other. It doesn’t mat­ter which color you are, we are all help­ing each other,” he said as he walked through Charlotte Amalie shortly af­ter the cur­few was lifted at noon.

Gov. Ken­neth Mapp warned that it could take sev­eral weeks to re­store full power and wa­ter to the ter­ri­tory as he an­grily de­nounced peo­ple with “un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions,” an ap­par­ent re­ac­tion to com­plaints on so­cial me­dia and the ra­dio.

“If you are not pre­pared to go through th­ese chal­lenges in a re­al­is­tic way, with re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, I am strongly urg­ing you to take one of the flights or one of the mercy cruises and go to the main­land for a few months and come back,” Mapp told re­porters.

Hur­ri­cane Irma lashed St. Thomas and St. John with winds of 150 mph for more than four hours when the storm hit Sept. 6. A com­plete dam­age as­sess­ment has yet to be done but many homes were left in ru­ins, as were po­lice and fire sta­tions and the main hospi­tal. There were four deaths from the storm, as well as a power line worker killed late Tues­day while try­ing to do re­pairs.

About 5,000 tourists who couldn’t get on any of the last de­part­ing flights en­dured the storm’s wrath along with the is­lands’ 105,000 res­i­dents. St. Croix, the most pop­u­lated of the is­lands in the chain, es­caped rel­a­tively un­scathed be­cause its lo­ca­tion some 45 miles to the south spared it a di­rect hit.

AP PHOTO BY RICARDO ARDUENGO

A woman with her two chil­dren walk past de­bris left by Hur­ri­cane Irma in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, Sun­day.

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