I am writing to highlight the plight of the US Virgin Islands after receiving a devastating knockout from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The day before Hurricane Maria demolished Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, it destroyed the United States Virgin Islands, also called America’s Paradise, a group of islands in the Caribbean that lies 40 miles (64 km) east of Puerto Rico. The US Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of St Croix, St John, St Thomas, and Water Island.
For some strange reason, the media coverage is almost non-existent. I’ve wrestled with this question for years: ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to listen, does it make a sound?’ I’ve flip-floped for years, “Yes, it made a sound and No, it didn’t.” But after the lack of coverage during and after the devastating effects that crippled St. Croix from Hurricane Maria, I will never debate (with that question) again. Yes, if the tree fell in the forest, it made a sound. Although there is a lack of media coverage of this disastrous storm, yes, Maria did destroy St. Croix.
Flashback to September 6th, Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, came through, hit and wrecked St. Thomas, St. John, the British Virgin Islands and other islands in the Caribbean. All lines of communication were lost as family and friends flooded social media with prayers and tears, just wishing they could hear a word about their loved ones. Strangers wept as people posted frantic emotional messages about their loved ones. No one cared if the person was black or white, female or male, Muslim or Christian, straight or gay, Democrat or Republican, Trump lover or Trump hater, the gift of life was in jeopardy and that was the only thing that they all cared.
The next day, Thursday 7th September, there was not a post on social media, not a phone call, not even the two little blue ticks that normally appeared on Whatsapp. Then, on Friday, September 8, I received a Whatsapp message: “Hello, friends and family. I’m fine and so are my daughters. The island is in ruins. Thank God… we are alive. The hospital is damaged and has to be abandoned. I’m at work now, but all the patients will be out tomorrow. Thanks for checking. Keep praying. I love you! Stan.” My friend (whom I spoke to) is a nurse at St. Thomas Hospital and when I received his message, I was relieved that I finally received a message that there is still life in St. Thomas, but then water flooded my eyes, life of my peers is still in danger. I felt helpless and that’s the worst feeling. There isn’t an exact count yet, but Irma claimed a few lives on St. Thomas.
Irma turned a world-renowned tourist destination, St. Thomas & St. John, into rubble. The roof of the hospital was torn off and water poured in. Emergency efforts began almost immediately to airlift patients from St. Thomas Hospital to Puerto Rico and St. Croix, respectively. As relief was on the way for the patients, the people of Crucian felt a burning desire to do something to help their sister islands. The people of St. Croix began their rescue efforts, loading boats with cases of bottled water, food, clothing, generators, and whatever they could get their hands on, to transport him to St. Thomas. The Crucians even set up temporary restaurants on St. Thomas to give people fresh, hot food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On their way back to St. Croix, some people from St. Thomas and St. John were transported to St. Croix. Their efforts continued until alarms sounded that a Category 5 hurricane was heading straight for St. Croix with winds in excess of 165 miles per hour.
The night of September 19 was the second longest night of my life. I stayed up crying all night, imagining the destruction of Hurricane Maria. Blowing off galvanized roofs, snapping power poles, uprooting large mahogany trees, flooding houses and destroying everything in its path. I started reliving 28 years ago when I witnessed Hurricane Hugo visit and devastate St. Croix. At that time that experience was my worst. It was the longest night of my life. I was 15 years old and I remember that at about 10 pm the roof came off and in a matter of seconds all I saw was black skies and the sound of galvanizing colliding with the gushing winds. My parents, 5 of my siblings and I stayed close to each other as we ran to our other, unfinished house. We hid behind the walls. Our house had a finished roof, but no windows or doors. And my dad didn’t board up the windows before the storm. After the hurricane passed, the roof of that house was left intact, thank God. That night my mom and I slept on a sheet of plywood on the cold wet concrete floor. The next morning, the island looked like the remains of a battlefield. The entire landscape was rusty brown, as if the entire island had been torched by a malicious team of gangsters, houses turned to rubble, trees snapped at the base or uprooted. Curfew was enforced. I remember sitting on the steps waiting for the military truck to come by and drop off food. I happily ran down the road and gladly told them the number of people in my family, and the soldiers gave me a well-packaged box of food. We were out of school for about 2 months and more than 6 months without electricity or running water.
During those times, a tear never rolled down my eyes, all I wanted to do was survive. Yet 28 years later, tears welled up in my eyes, frightened by the unknown and the frustrating part was that there was no news in the mainstream media that Hurricane Maria was directly hitting St. Croix.
Most of us on the mainland tuned in to CNN, FOX, ABC NEWS, but there was no news from St. Croix. As if St. Croix didn’t exist. Yes, Maria devastated St. Croix and 2 days later, I found out that Maria also demolished the already devastated islands of St. Thomas and St. John. So, the question is: “If something is not reported by the media, did it happen? Don’t think about it, let me answer the question: “Yes, Hurricane Maria destroyed the US Virgin Islands along with Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands.” .
On September 6, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Governor Kenneth Mapp of the Virgin Islands and “We stand with all of you!” That was a message about Hurricane Irma. I’m not sure if President Trump was informed about Maria’s hit on St. Croix, but either way, I want President Trump and the people of the United States to know that the United States Virgin Islands (St. Croix , St. Thomas and St. John) were struck down by the evil eyed apple of IRMA and MARIA.
The Virgin Islands are home to about 107,000 people, its population is made up of a diverse set of people who are predominantly English-speaking.
I and other Virgin Islanders residing in the US (mainland) would like to advocate for media coverage of this devastated area, which is a tourist destination serving over 2.6 million people who visit annually.
In conclusion, as a direct result of Hurricanes IRMA and MARIA, many of the houses in the Virgin Islands were flooded with missing roofs or collapsed walls. Many roads are impassable due to flooding, downed trees and downed power lines. Many homes do not have electricity or access to potable water.
The media are not only an important part of society, but are the ‘watchdog’ tasked with giving hope to the voiceless. In this case, they are absent. Because? We need action NOW!
Note: This was not an article to complain but rather to explain the severity of the state of the damage and the lack of care for Americans in America’s Paradise.