The state of the US Virgin Islands after Maria

by | Dec 12, 2017 | United States Virgin Islands | Comments

Known for its white sandy beaches and tropical climate, it is a destination for many that like adventure and travel. The United States Virgin Islands are a group of islands located beautifully in the insular part of the US, in the Caribbean, 40 miles east of Puerto Rico. So when Hurricane Irma and Maria hit this past September, the US Virgin Islands weren’t anymore safer. Most residents were in fear of their lives and losing all their possessions. Not to mention the devastation and damage that delayed some businesses from opening for more than two weeks after the storms had passed. It’s been more than 70 days and only 60% of the residents have electricity. In Saint Croix the largest of the islands, only about a fourth of the residents have power. It has been a slow mission for residents of the islands to get back to normal with so many obstacles against them.

Nestled in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, the US Virgin Islands are made up by three main islands, Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix. Its picturesque beaches continue to attract people from all over the world. Tourism being their greatest economic source brings in over two million visitors a year, mostly on cruise ships. It is reported that 50% of the working population is employed by tourism or related businesses. They are also known for their rum but their agriculture is small with most food being imported.

So the islands took quite a hit and has taken ample time to recover after the hurricane. Most of the economy is produced by the water so the US Virgin Islands really felt the aftermath of both Hurricane Irma and Maria. Right when the US Virgin Islanders were recovering from Hurricane Irma, then came Hurricane Maria as  a category 5 storm and pummeled the islands again leaving most houses without rooftops. The day by day struggle of life after the storm seems to be weighing down on the natives. You can hear the rumble from the generators, especially at night when the pitch dark falls upon disheveled streets where power has not been restored. Cell phone service is minimal.

“The problem is, nobody knows we exist” was the opinion of one resident describing an entire hillside neighborhood reduced to sticks. Others stated they had not seen patrol cars or rescue efforts. Although these reports were from the residents themselves, the US Federal Emergency Agency  did step into action. They’ve been working closely with local organizations that helped a lot with restoring the roads and getting services back on. During the aftermath of Hurricane Maria there was also a big concern about schools resuming. The US Army Corps of Engineers, a non-profit organization, installed 28 generators and are working with the territorial Department of Education to provide classroom space and needed materials in schools that received the most damage. They also worked on removing Debris from roads and streets still covered in rubble.

Still, after all these efforts to recover, it has been quite an adjustment for the natives of the US Virgin Islands. Almost 1000 workers in the tourism business are still out of jobs. It will take more months to put together what took years of building. The townspeople must hold on to what’s already been done and look towards the future. Living under those conditions can be quite challenging and stressful yet we can somehow get involved and make a change.