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Hurricane Irma Wreaks Havoc in the Caribbean

Islands’ Infrastructures, Economies Left in Tatters

Barrington M. Salmon Special to the Baltimore Times | 9/22/2017, 6 a.m.
A week after Hurricane Irma decimated the US Virgin Islands and other parts of the Caribbean, those in the territory ...
Damage from Hurricane Irma Courtesy Photo

A week after Hurricane Irma decimated the US Virgin Islands and other parts of the Caribbean, those in the territory dubbed “America’s Paradise,” are facing years of rebuilding in the long-term and restoring a sense of normalcy right now.

The Category 5 storm left much of St. Thomas looking like a “nuclear winter” as one resident described it, and looking as if someone set off a bomb in the middle of the island according to another resident. Yet even as shell-shocked residents clear debris, stand in long lines for water and food and await federal assistance, their fears have been raised anew as another Category 5 hurricane – Maria – is bearing down on St. Thomas and Eastern Caribbean.

Damage from Irma

Courtesy Photo

Damage from Irma

Violette Brown, a St. Thomas native, said she’s lived through hurricanes but Irma showed her Mother Nature’s raw power and fury as the storm tore the roof off her mother’s home, forcing her and her mother to run for their lives.

“The wind was pulling [off] parts of roof and I looked up and saw the sky up there,” Brown recalled. “I said ‘Mama, we’ve got to go.’ We ran outside and I thought the wind was going to take us. I’ve never seen light poles snap. Mango trees just snapped. We had sour sap, sugar apple, mangoes and other trees in our yard. We don’t have anything anymore.”

“At 7 a.m., I saw our roof on the street. There’s debris everywhere – everything is in our yard. Our concrete wall on ground, houses have fallen down and roofs torn off. I asked ‘what the hell is going on?’ It’s like a bomb went off.”

The hurricane, clocked at speeds of 185 miles per hour, tore the roof of St. Thomas Hospital, prompting the evacuation of patients to Puerto Rico. Hotels on the beach and waterfront were severely damaged and destroyed and at the marina, boats were turned on their sides or washed ashore.

Of the three islands in the territory, St. John suffered widespread devastation to a greater degree than St. Thomas, while St. Croix, 40 miles south of St. Thomas escaped relatively unscathed.

There were new fears this week as another Category 5 Hurricane, Maria, was bearing down on the Caribbean and any already storm-weary region.

In St. Thomas, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are on the ground conducting inspections while US military, National Guards and local law enforcement are assisting with the distribution of food and water. Tim Duncan, born on St. Croix and recently retired San Antonio Spurs superstar, was on-island last week with truckloads of supplies and materials which he helped distribute. He pledged $1 million which so far has been matched by other donors to the tune of $6 million.

Employees from the US Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority have been working 12-hour shifts to restore power, although Gov. Kenneth Mapp is estimating that it might take as long as 8 months for power to be returned to the whole island.