The U.S. Virgin Islands Is Weathering The Hurricanes

REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Peter Bailey Freelance Writer
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We in the US Virgin Islands have faced the same issues of no electricity, gas and food shortages as Puerto Rico — who unlike us have an operable hospital — but we’ve been all but forgotten by mainstream media.

America’s major news networks have flocked to our embattled island neighbor to the west, attracting the activists, celebrities and politicians salivating for the press opportunities.

Sadly, Puerto Rico has become a cause celebre for anyone trying to push their agenda, the island’s residents now merely caricatures caught in a tragic scene that will garner big ratings.

If the luminaries who now shine bright amid the chaos in Puerto Rico truly cared about the human suffering these historic hurricanes have dealt they would visit here on St. Thomas as well, a mere 40 miles away.

Ravaged by both hurricane Irma and Maria in an unprecedented  two weeks, the scene here is just as horrific as thousands remain homeless, their homes now piles of rubble scattered throughout our once lush green hillsides. With trees uprooted and stripped of leaves, our forests look skeletal. St. John and St. Croix reflect similar despair.

I myself had to rush out to face Irma’s wrath as our roof tore off, leading my brother and me to carry our wheelchair bound 80 year-old father outside to a downstairs apartment, dodging flying debris as we went. Then hurricane Maria, another category 5 storm, took the little Irma left with torrential rains causing massive flooding and soil erosion.

If my father’s Alzheimer’s causes another life threatening seizure like the one he suffered in July there’s no hospital for him to get treatment. Although living in a day to day reality that mirrors the apocalypse our community has yet to make prime time news. Maybe it’s because the  US Virgin Islands is 86 percent black or with only 100,000 we’re less likely to become a trending topic.

Furthermore, news cameras won’t find the sensational scene of a mayor dawning a T-shirt with the words “Help Us, We Are Dying”, only a people with an unconquerable spirit toiling in obscurity taking care of each other with no complaints and not much fanfare.

A sometimes jovial Governor Kenneth Mapp reminds residents of our resilience in his daily 5 pm radio press conferences: “We will be a constant force in our own recovery”.

Our resolve has even garnered  praise from President Trump, tweeting “people working hard” in reference to our community wide effort to restore our beloved paradise.

The very next day after Maria hit my neighbor Robert Buckmire came by to once again help me build a make-shift roof from the debris strewn throughout my yard like we did after hurricane Irma. We then ventured next door to repair another neighbor’s roof. “Maria was trying to out do Irma”, Buckmire joked. Another neighbor brought my 74-year old mother – who was busy clearing our garden of fallen trees with machete in hand – a cheese sandwich. Two days later Cassie, the nurse that helps to take care of my Alzheimer’s stricken father brought ice, the most prized treasure right now.

With our hospital decimated, her very own ailing step-father and other patients having to be airlifted off island, she found time to scour the island to aid us and others.

“I’m not sure he’s going to make it back,” Cassie told me sheepishly when I asked her about her step-father. Several of her relatives died in her native Dominica, the lush island known for rainforests now virtually wiped out by Maria.

A week into Irma’s devastation a tweet, one of many that were sent right after the storm came in from local boxer and chef Julius Jackson:

“We made it bro but a lot of destruction around us! Gotta go help others now”.

My neighbor Antonio Torres picked me up and we headed over to “My Brother’s Workshop” a community enrichment program turned feeding center to help out Julius who’s been spending his days cooking savory meals from blackened chicken to roasted pork, serving some 1,000 daily.

Like many in these islands now void of electricity, running water, limited phone and internet access I spend my days chopping wood from the forest to light a coal pot to heat up canned food. After which, I bathe with buckets of water – outside under the moonlight is my favorite.

Nevertheless, here in St. Thomas we’re smiling, laughing and supporting each other when reality echoes heartbreak. It’s because in a region more known for bikinis and booze, where visitors flock to relax and indulge in all vices imaginable our real beauty lies in our ability to turn cries into smiles and our will to climb the precipice of human fortitude.

This drama-free narrative may not boost TV ratings or garner celebrity attention, but I think it’s worth sharing.

Peter Bailey is a journalist from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.