Despite the overwhelming reports of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, there’s a U.S. territory that was devastated beyond measure that’s getting little to no coverage – the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Hurricane Irma struck the United States Virgin Islands, on Wednesday September 6 and caused near total destruction of the infrastructure of the island. St. Thomas and St. John have a population of approximately 70,000 people, the vast majority on St. Thomas. The last report I got was that each of the U.S. Virgin Islands only has a total of 10 days of potable water available to its citizens. And that’s exactly what I want to focus on, the citizens, the people behind the disaster, because it is my stubborn belief that when people come together, anything is possible. First, let’s back up.
On September 4, I checked in with my friend Paul Nabor, whose lived on St. Thomas for 6 years now.
Tyler: How’s it going?
Paul: To be honest, I’m freaking out (internally) but I am as prepared as possible. But this could be really bad, will most likely lose cell service for an undetermined amount of time. All flights are booked out and they are cancelling the ones for tomorrow. Nothing we can do now but ride it out.
And then, silence. At this point I’m not sure if my friend is alive or dead. If he still has a home, electricity, or even clean water. What’s going on? Still, no reports on the news regarding the USVI. Almost 3 days pass.
Paul: The island is devastated but I made it through. It will probably be around 6-12 months with no power. The solar field is gone. I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted.
And then, the pictures.
Another day passes. I don’t know what to do but to keep checking in.
Tyler: Are you safe?
Paul: Looking for more aid. New coverage is minimal and we need aid down here to help locals survive this. There is no evacuating for most. Most will be here without clean water or power for a long time and it’s up to US citizens to step up and help support their own in their time of need. We need relief fast.
Paul used what little charge he has on his phone to message me, not for relief, but for attention. No one had a chance to evacuate. And now two thirds of the population is homeless.
Paul: Forty-thousand people are without adequate shelter.
The sole hospital on St. Thomas was mostly destroyed. The other medical facility was completely destroyed. Medical services are virtually non-existent, being provided by a general practitioner and an orthopedic surgeon whose home was destroyed. And there are likely injured people still trapped in their homes, as many roads are impassable due to debris.
The airport was largely destroyed. It is currently under control of FEMA, and the runway is intact, but there is no air traffic control.
There is no reliable or consistent supply chain for food or fuel on either island. Due to scarcity of food, water, and fuel, the security situation is rapidly deteriorating. The Virgin Islands Police Department is largely decimated do to the loss of shelter for the majority of police officers. The Virgin Islands has a serious problem with illegal firearms, so a collapse of social order will become deadly quickly. There is currently an 18 hour a day curfew, but this will not prevent civil unrest.
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No one deserves to be devalued and neglected in this way. These territories are just as much a part of the United States as Florida, Texas, or any other state in the nation or the world. We are one. We must set aside our thirst for this disaster pornography and start acknowledging the human beings behind the disaster. As Paul says, “That has been the hardest part for us, we were forgotten before it even hit us. The media kept talking about the hurricane’s impact for Florida as it was impacting us.”
“I know this is a really sensitive time, but I want to help,” I said. “Break it down for me.”
“I think the biggest thing to remind people is that these are The U.S. Virgin Islands,” Paul said, “They are territories owned by the US with over 110,000 Americans, and 3.2 million affected by this hurricane if you include Puerto Rico. And yet American news isn’t covering it like they do Houston for Harvey or the east coast for Irma.”
“What are the top priorities?” I ask.
1) Humanitarian assistance. Food, water, and tarps need to be delivered and distributed to residential areas of both islands. Current food distribution is not adequate, and the stores are running out of food.
2) Evacuation. The only current evacuation services are private vessels. All non-essential persons should be able to leave the island due to resource scarcity.
3) Supply lines. There are inadequate resources in the territory to clear debris from cargo ports to allow supply lines for basic necessities (food, water, fuel) to be re-established.
4) Security. Federal personnel needs to take control of the security situation.
5) Health care. Federal resources are needed to establish some type of clinic where those wounded in the storm can receive medical treatment, and infections can be treated. An outbreak of any type of communicable disease would spread rapidly in the current environment.
If you’re a doctor that wants to help, please consider volunteering to assist those injured. I already know of one doctor who’s on her way. Go through you closest and send extra blankets, sheets, clothes, food, and water. Have a pair of hands, let’s put them to use.
To donate or volunteer:
VI STRONG: https://vistrong.org/
Red Cross Volunteer application: http://www.redcross.org/hurricane-irma-volunteer-application