Cross post from Shipmate App. Apologize in advance for users of both platforms.
I finally heard back from a former coworker and friend on St Thomas tonight.
Area code 340 appeared on my phone as I watched the evening news in Denver. My heart skipped a beat, I know that area code, I know it's the USVI. It felt surreal having to mute my 70" big screen TV and look at my large glass of ice water beside me as he explained how things are on St Thomas. I used to work there with him. I know the islands well.
Now, no power, no water, little food. Multiple check points. Curfew 6pm to noon. They can't open the supermarkets fully for fear of looting, so the National Guard allows 8-10 in at a time to pick from the small selection of food. Long lines waiting for your turn. He seemed pleased to have a few items of food from his last visit. He had found a working ATM and was able to get cash for food. Small miracles. Between getting there and waiting in line, it's an all day affair. Curfew.
He was aware of the cruise ship visit today and why they were there - to pick up stranded travellers, but he knew nothing of the supplies being left by the ships. "Where did they go?" was his question, meaning the supplies, not the travellers.
He still works for the same company where I was a contractor. He explained how he works noon to six because that is when curfew is lifted. He goes to the office building where I used to work from and tries to keep some of the equipment from over heating by moving fans around. They have a generator, but not one to run the air conditioning for the building, a building which is damaged. They all are. Today he tried to make it to the Home Depot to buy something for the office. That took 2 1/2 hours. It used to take 10 - 15 minutes from Tutu. Lots of check points. VI police at one, National Guard at another, Marines at a 3rd. He wasn't sure they were Marines, but some sort of military. Turns out Home Depot was closed. No power and damaged. With no time to lose, he headed back. He had to, curfew in 2 hours. A work day lost. Many of the company buildings are damaged. Some of these are the central offices of the local Telco where we worked. They were the backbone of island communication before Irma. He was grateful to have cell signal tonight. I felt guilty talking to him for so long knowing it was draining his battery, but it seemed like he wanted to talk, needed to talk. He can charge it in the office tomorrow he explained. Our calls dropped numerous times but he promptly called me back each time.
"It's hard" he explained. "Everything is hard". I could hear it in his voice. Even doing nothing all morning but laying in bed until noon. Curfew. Can't go outside, nothing to do inside. His house damaged he is living with friends. Even bathing is hard. No water and it's hard to bathe in the ocean and be salty.
He was hoping to make it to St Croix soon. The company has offices there. He could keep his job. That's really important in the VI, jobs are hard to come by and he is grateful to have one. St Croix felt some effects from Irma but nothing like St Thomas and especially not like St John. "I'm blessed" he told me. "People on St John have it very bad". He explained they are resettling anyone they can from St John over to St Croix. For the moment that means he can't go to St Croix. Maybe soon he hopes. They have power, and water. Some of St Croix does he heard. He told me several times how fortunate he is.
I felt silly asking if he needed anything, both of us knowing there would be no way for me to ship it to him. Maybe soon. Until then I've got to find a way to help. We all do.
Since writing this late last night I woke to the news that Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas remains in the area and is doing runs between San Juan and St Thomas. Shout out to the NCL Sky for her visit Monday, I was checking out her webcam while she was there. Even bigger shout out to Royal Caribbean for keeping Majesty OTS in the area for a few days. I know other lines are helping in other places too.
The biggest challenge in a natural disaster anywhere is surviving the first few weeks. Add the island factor and the fact that there are two islands, St Thomas and St John and it becomes a massive challenge. With more supplies continuing to arrive they will eventually make it to the people. Looters won't feel the need to loot, curfews can be relaxed, people will shift focus to items like getting the power on and water running.
It won't happen overnight but don't underestimate the resolve of VI residents, these are American citizens after all. St Thomas and St John will rebuild. I look forward to returning on a cruise one day. Until then donate if you can and thank the cruise lines for their role in this critical phase of surviving the next few weeks.