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Help and relief still needed in U.S. Virgin Islands

By Rhodesia Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Oct 5, 2017 - 7:40:44 PM

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A woman with her two children walk past debris left by Hurricane Irma in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 10.The storm ravaged such lush resort islands as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos

Puerto Rico, located about 40 miles from the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been at the center of attention in the aftermath of devastation from two powerful hurricanes. But, it seems many have overlooked the smaller islands that were also greatly impacted, specifically the U.S. Virgin Islands which are facing their own crisis.

Kenneth Mapp, governor of the Virgin Islands, said that three of his islands, including St. John, St. Thomas, and Water Island had been decimated by Hurricane Irma and he was using St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, as a base for their recovery. Unfortunately, nearly two weeks later, Hurricane Maria hit destroying 70 percent of buildings.

There are currently 48,000 people in the U.S. Virgin Islands still without power leaving many relying on generators. According to FEMA, there are seven shelters with 621 occupants across the island. Thousands of federal staff, including more than 600 FEMA personnel are on the ground engaged in response and recovery operations. But, with collapsed infrastructure and knocked out electricity and communication lines, many are in dire situations. So far, estimates to repair the damage and rebuild the islands’ electrical grid are $200 million.

One resident said, she feels they have been given false hope by the U.S. federal government. She said, promises have been made by government officials that the condition on the island would improve, yet she struggles to feed her children every day.

Although President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands one day after Maria hit, residents have seen very little aid.

Officials vowed that every day food and emergency supplies would be distributed to different areas of the island, but admitted widespread distribution remains a problem.

Residents without transportation are in a worse condition because some have to drive miles to receive food and supplies and many cars still lie under rubble and many roads are still blocked by debris. Unfortunately, many residents who can get to the distribution center, may miss out because there’s a lack of power and cell-phone service. Residents can’t be notified of when and what time supplies will arrive.

“There’s a massive logistics issue and it’s pure chaos at the docks,” said Vernon Araujo, the development director of the Family Resource Center in St. Thomas. “There are containers on top of containers and we don’t know what supplies are in there.”

U.S. Virgin Islands are fighting to not be left out of the equation. There are two community organizers that are making sure the U.S. Virgin Islands are not being forgotten. St. Croix native Isoke Jacobs and Kendrick Muhammad collaborated after witnessing the footage of the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Immediately, they began galvanizing volunteers to support an effort they call “Operation Build and Restore the Virgin Islands.”

“I watched as my friend cried seeing what happened to her home town,” said Mr. Muhammad. “Out of her pain and passion, we became motivated and started thinking about what we could do to help. So, we reached out to the volunteer ministry of the Church of Scientology in Clear Water, Florida to see if they could sponsor at least 50 volunteers to go to St. Croix to provide assistance to residents in need.”

Mr. Muhammad explained how they circulated donation letters and had a meeting with a representative of the volunteer ministry of the Church of Scientology, who agreed to sponsor 10 volunteers. They have a ship called ‘Free Winds’, that they use to transport relief supplies.

“Once we get volunteers, we will go to St. Croix on the ship and stay for about a week, or longer. We will have the items they already requested for their daily needs,” he added.

There’s a four-point plan by which ‘Operation Build and Restore the Virgin Islands’ are hoping could bring about relief to those citizens. First, putting on a benefit concert with local artists to bring more attention to the devastation, while also lifting the spirit of the residents. Secondly, asking for contractors and builders to aid in rebuilding, also calling for food farming, permaculture, or natural-food preservationists to help designate and secure specific areas to plant so that food would grow in multiple areas.

Lastly, many people are traumatized by the catastrophic events and they would like to provide counseling for as many people as they can.

“President Trump, definitely should have been swifter to respond as he would have if it were a war, but we’re not going to wait. We should already be in the restoration stage,” Mr. Muhammad added.

There’s a disaster training sponsored by Volunteer Ministry of Scientology in Clearwater, Fl. to make sure anyone interested in going is properly prepared for what they may encounter. Volunteers can reach Ms. Jacobs at: randrusvi@gmail.com.

In quoting Gov. Mapp, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, reported that St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport opened to commercial flights in late September, with both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines operating services to the mainland United States.

The restoration of power, he added, was “inching its way forward,” while FEMA is, working with local counterparts and was progressing with its provision of water to homes.

The association listed several of the most popular hotels and resorts, many of which are still closed until the middle or end of October or closed indefinitely.

The islands are still reeling noted a CNN news report. “Many residents are without shelter, power or communication. Schools are still closed and debris still litters the street, hindering the transportation of resources and personnel.” Media outlets also note that challenges in getting necessary supplies to the people persists.

According to the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) based on the restoration work completed since Hurricane Maria impacted the territory they estimate St. Thomas has experienced about 15 percent restoration while St. Croix has seen restoration totals of approximately 10 percent.

St. Croix has about four megawatts of electricity presently on the electric grid while St. Thomas has about 10 megawatts. The restoration totals are based on present generation loads versus pre-storm load totals, WAPA reported on its website.

They also issued a precautionary boil water advisory Sept. 27. “Under this advisory, it is recommended that water be boiled rapidly for at least one minute in advance of consumption to eliminate any possible bacteria that may be present,” the agency’s website noted.

YoNasDa Lonewolf, a national organizer, activist and hip-hop artist also had a desire to help shine a light on the tragedies happening in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes striking not only in Houston and Miami but also Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

She founded an organization called #HipHop4ThePeople. Ms. Lonewolf galvanized performing artists in 10 different cities around the U.S. on September 30. The various gatherings promoted cultural performances and donated items were collected in order to be distributed to residents in hurricane affected areas. Some cities that participated included: Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Phoenix and Detroit. Muslims from the Nation of Islam of Houston’s Muhammad Mosque No. 45 and Miami’s Muhammad Mosque No. 29 participated in making the events in their respective cities a success.

The events surrounding #HipHop4ThePeople were a huge success, Ms. Lonewolf posted via Facebook. Plans are in the works for a part two slated for October 28. For more information, visit Yo- NasDa Lonewolf on Facebook.

“We’re working in UNITY in Miami to assist those in need post hurricanes Irma & Maria for Florida & the Caribbean!!!” she added.

The event in Miami took place at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex and included assistance from Ms. Lonewolf along with, Valencia Gunder of Make The Homeless Smile; Unite Or Die Campaign; United Caribbean Strong; Nation of Gods & Earths; and many more, Student Minister Patrick Muhammad of Mosque No. 29 posted via social media. Student Min. Patrick Muhammad is also the Nation of Islam’s Seventh Regional Representative which includes Miami and the Caribbean.

“The recovery process is lengthy & the need is great! Please continue to help us to provide more assistance by visiting www.noimiami.org,” he posted via Facebook. –Rhodesia Muhammad (Final Call Staff contributed to this report.)

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