[Many thanks to Michael Connors for sharing this article.] J. Lowe Davis, editor at large of The Virgin Islands Daily News writes about the trials and tribulations in the U.S. Virgin Islands at this moment and the people who seem to have been forgotten by the media. On a positive note, she underlines the great work that organizations like Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands and The Salvation Army have been doing for the islanders:
I would not be writing this if I were in the Virgin Islands. I would be hauling water up out of the cistern under the house, then boiling it on the gas stove. When the propane canister ran dry, so would I. No more safe water to drink. No way to get to any place that might be open and might have food and water for sale. No cash left to buy anything.
I am not there, though, because my scheduled flight home to St. Thomas two days before Hurricane Irma was cancelled, and I have not been able to get a new flight. The airport was closed until a few days ago, and even now, landings and takeoffs are severely limited.
What I know is based on current reports and on my personal experience in 1995 when Hurricane Marilyn blew my roof off, toppled my walls and sent my kitchen appliances and furniture tumbling down the road. When I crawled out from under a pile of beams and boards that had collapsed over me, the house was nothing but splinters. And that was just the beginning. It was four days before outside help arrived, and nearly four months before electricity returned.
Photos and videos circulating worldwide right now show flattened houses, broken boats and dazed people in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Those images are similar to scenes of devastation after tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes elsewhere. You think that you’ve seen all this before and that you can imagine what it must be like.
No, you can’t.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are not like Houston or anywhere else on the U.S. mainland. Geography is the story. The three islands comprising the U.S.-owned territory are tiny specks in a huge ocean, 1,000 miles from a major U.S. city. You can’t get in your car and drive to them. Good Samaritans can’t bring trucks loaded with supplies. By their nature, islands are isolated — apart and away from a large land mass. Thus airplanes and boats are the only way in and the only way out. Both require fuel, facilities and money. Right now, not much of that is available.
[. . .] From brief emails and even briefer cellphone calls from family, friends and co-workers there, I’ve found out they have no electricity, no internet, no phones and have to walk considerable distances to reach a Wi-Fi hot spot or a place with a cell signal. Walking is the norm because there’s little gasoline. In many cases, the vehicle you would put the gas in is crushed under debris or upside-down somewhere.
The Virgin Islands Daily News, where I have worked for 23 years, has done its utmost to do what the news media does best: gather accurate, essential information and get it out to people who need it. A number of the staff huddled in the newsroom through both Irma and Maria. By using a generator, they managed to get print copies on the streets as soon as possible after the storms — and they’ve kept on publishing. A few days ago, the office regained semi-reliable internet, so the electronic paper is operating.
Amid the heroics, The Daily News family suffered losses — a number of editors, reporters, along with advertising, circulation and press-room staff, lost their homes and all their belongings. The greatest was a loss of life. [. . .]
I have not verified those statements, but I can vouch for this: Virgin Islanders are proud to be U.S. citizens. Glad to be rid of Danish rule when the United States purchased the territory from Denmark on March 31, 1917, the people of the Virgin Islands embraced America and all the good that it stands for.
[. . .] The Salvation Army is feeding and taking care of an astounding number of people young and old. Phone service is so unreliable, a donation through the national headquarters would do more good than you can imagine. For ways to help, go to www.salvationarmyusa.org. The Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands is feeding hundreds and reaching out everywhere. In addition, Bishop Herbert Bevard is opening the Catholic schools in the Virgin Islands to all public school students, tuition free, because the public schools’ future is uncertain. For ways to help, go to the website www.catholicvi.com.