U.S. Virgin Islands Still Recovering After Widespread Damage And Flooding From Hurricanes NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with Rev. Jeff Neevel from St. Thomas about what life is like there after Hurricane Maria. Neevel's congregation has been working on outreach and relief efforts on the island.
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U.S. Virgin Islands Still Recovering After Widespread Damage And Flooding From Hurricanes

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U.S. Virgin Islands Still Recovering After Widespread Damage And Flooding From Hurricanes

U.S. Virgin Islands Still Recovering After Widespread Damage And Flooding From Hurricanes

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The U.S. Virgin Islands, three tiny islands in the middle of the Caribbean - St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix - are home to just over a hundred thousand Americans. And life for those Americans is not easy these days. Within two weeks' time, they were hit by both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. They're now deep into recovery mode. For the latest on what they're experiencing we have Jeff Neevel. He's a pastor on St. Thomas. His church is aiding in recovery efforts. Hi there.

JEFF NEEVEL: Hi, Ailsa. How are you doing?

CHANG: I'm good. Thank you for joining us. We've heard the damage is so bad on the islands that the hospitals on St. Thomas and St. Croix will likely need to be torn down and rebuilt. Can you tell us about what you've been seeing when you've been out and about? What's the extent of the damage?

NEEVEL: The damage is catastrophic. There's no doubt about that. As you drive around, you know, it looks like a war zone everywhere. There's hardly a tree left or a leaf left if the tree's standing. But even some of the smaller ones already are budding. You know, so there's signs of new life, flowers budding in some - certain places. And that's hopeful.

CHANG: I like that image. But we understand that much of the supplies that the island relies on come through ports in Puerto Rico and St. Croix, both of which have sustained extensive damage. Are you seeing shortages right now of necessary supplies?

NEEVEL: Yes, we're having a hard time getting our hands on the supplies that we did after Irma. And, you know, people in Puerto Rico are shipping things over in private - citizens' private boats, nonprofits, people from the States coordinating all of this. And, of course, that all got cut off as soon as Maria hit. But, you know, I have to say today another boat came from Puerto Rico. They lost - this one island excursion company that was doing it lost a lot of their boats, but they had one and they put it on a private boat today.

And even today I received supplies from Puerto Rico that we'll distribute tomorrow. And I said to the people on the boat - I was like, thank you, but really should keep it all on Puerto Rico. I know you guys need it, too. But they wanted to make sure that the donations got to where they needed to go. So that was pretty - that was pretty cool actually, and I thank the people of Puerto Rico for that. But, you know, they told stories, too. I mean, it's horrific. And there's a lot of people in need.

CHANG: The islands are so heavily dependent on tourism. And we saw the owner of a restaurant in St. John quoted saying the economy has evaporated pretty much overnight. Do you feel that that's happened?

NEEVEL: Yes. I mean, you know, we rely heavily on tourism, and there isn't any right now. And most of the people that - a lot of the people that work in the tourism industry live paycheck to paycheck, work minimum wage. And they're just not getting paid and they're not working. So it's going to be a long haul for them.

CHANG: Now, Kenneth Mapp, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, has called on Washington to remember what he calls the forgotten Americans in the territories. President Trump is going to be visiting the islands next week. What do you want the president to see?

NEEVEL: You know, I would love for him to be encouraged by the way people here are struggling together and working together to try to make it. But there is a sense that the territories don't exist in - as part of the United States of America. I mean, we're American citizens. Even though we can't vote, we do care about what's going on in the United States. And a lot of us are, you know, from the mainland and, you know, have made our home here. But...

CHANG: Do you feel that you've been forgotten?

NEEVEL: I think a lot of people feel that way, yes. And, you know, when I talk to people back in the States who are watching the news, like, they don't mention the Virgin Islands at all. You know, we're here. And there's a lot of good people here. And, you know, I hope that he can bring some - a positive message and a message of hope for the people here that there is help on the way because I think we're - no, I know we're going to need it in order to restart the economy here and make this America's paradise, which is what it is.

CHANG: That was Pastor Jeff Neevel, whose church is aiding in recovery efforts on St. Thomas. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

NEEVEL: Thank you.

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