St. Thomas Residents Begin To Rebuild After Irma Destroyed The Island
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Several Caribbean islands are facing a long recovery after Hurricane Irma. St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands is 90 percent without power. It's still very difficult to navigate because of downed power lines and debris. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in St. Thomas and joins us now. Hi, Jason.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Tell us where you are exactly.
BEAUBIEN: So I'm actually up on a balcony, looking out over the bay at the moment here in St. Thomas. And you know, just down the hill from me there are buildings that are collapsed, roofs that are ripped off. Sort of over to the left, there - what was once, you know, this nice, lush, beautiful hillside is just brown because all of the leaves have been stripped off the trees, and the trees have just been sort of flattened against the hillside. So that's where I am here. And it continues to rain. There's no rest for the weary here.
SHAPIRO: We've heard about evacuations of tourists and some locals. Can you tell me about the people who are still on the island? How many of them are there, and how are they getting by?
BEAUBIEN: Well, thousands of people have already left, but the people who have remained are just coping as best they can. I mean there haven't been shipments of food coming in. The airport is slowly coming back to life. They managed to get a tower going out at the airport, which is a huge bonus for people. I have to tell you. The wind is really picking up here.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, I can hear that.
BEAUBIEN: It's part of the issue that the people are facing as well. And you know, a lot of people don't have roofs over their heads at the moment. And you know, it continues to rain. There are food shelters that are feeding people. I talked to this one woman, Nakeba Stewart. She works at a place called My Brother's Workshop. And they're feeding about 300 people a day with these free meals. And people are just coming in because they don't have anything else. And she says people need a lot.
NAKEBA STEWART: Right now I know a lot of people complain about - they don't have tarps because a lot of people don't have roofs anymore. And it's been hard to come by. Even though the government has said that they have been distributing them, they - we haven't been seeing them.
BEAUBIEN: And tarps are just one of the many, many things people need here.
SHAPIRO: Is there are enough supplies for the people who need it? I mean is there enough food, water, ice? You say people need basic shelter.
BEAUBIEN: You know, at this point, there really isn't. There are long lines at the few grocery stores that are open. There are also a few gas stations that are open. And as soon as the curfew gets lifted each day, these long lines form at those places, and people just stream out to try to get these basic commodities. You know, the port was damaged. They haven't been able to get shipments in here like they would normally.
And also, the streets have been blocked, so people haven't even been able to get out of their homes. Some people for, you know, five days weren't able to leave their homes. So people have burned through a lot of the supplies that they had. And yeah, yeah, people here are - they're in need of a lot.
SHAPIRO: When we spoke on this program yesterday with the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, he said he hoped that they would be open to tourism back up and running again by January. What kind of a timeline are you hearing from people you're talking to there?
BEAUBIEN: It really is amazing. On almost every front when you talk to people, it's either, I don't know how long it will be, or it's months before things will be running again. Like, the airport - talked to the Port Authority head. He said he thinks it'll be nine months before that airport is fully operational again. You talk to other people about it in terms of rebuilding. Some of them are saying, you know, I think this is going to take years to get this to come back. The level of damage here is really quite extensive.
SHAPIRO: Is this a matter of comfort and convenience, or is it a matter of life and death? I understand the hospital's not working. How are people getting basic health care needs taken care of?
BEAUBIEN: You know, in a way, it isn't about comfort at all. This is about survival, and this is about people at this point just burning through whatever supplies they have left in their cupboards. And it has been eight days since Irma hit, and people were going through some of those supplies even before Irma hit. So the longer this goes on, that, you know, they aren't able to get supplies into the supermarkets and the water isn't running and the electricity isn't running, the more and more desperate it could get here. Things are getting better. There's - you know, there's Marines out in the streets, so the security has improved. But still, this place has a long, long way to go.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien speaking with us on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Thanks a lot, Jason.
BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Ari.
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