The U.S. Virgin Islands: Criminally Inadequate Level of Aid for People Devastated by Hurricanes

October 2, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


The U.S. Virgin Islands—St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix—were among the Caribbean islands devastated first by Hurricane Irma, and then two weeks later by Hurricane Maria. Both were Category 5 storms when they hit the islands, and most of the islands’ 100,000 people are still struggling to get the barest essentials, nearly two weeks after Maria hit, yet there’s been barely a trickle of relief, and what little has arrived never reaches many.

The two hurricanes knocked out power on all three islands. St. Johns still has no power; power is only 15 percent restored on St. Thomas and 10 percent restored on St. Croix. Only a third of cellphone service has been restored, so many people can’t even find out if loved ones are safe or need help, or when and where relief supplies are being given out.

The devastation has been catastrophic. Both main hospitals (on St. Thomas and St. Croix) were destroyed, and it’s unclear when, even if, they’ll be rebuilt. Many roads remain choked with debris, and people’s cars are buried or destroyed. “So many public school buildings have been compromised on the three islands that students cannot go back to class,” according to the New York Times. “And the wind has stripped the trees of all their leaves, leaving the once lush tropical forests looking as if they were set afire with napalm.”

Many people have been left without homes after they were flooded or damaged. Others are trying to live in their storm-damaged homes, some without roofs, as people struggle to find basic materials like tarps to keep out moisture. Most jobs on these islands, which depend largely on tourism, have evaporated and many people are running out of money, unable to buy even basic supplies like cleaners so they can wash clothes or get rid of harmful mold. The situation is especially dire for the ill, the elderly, and for small children in this sub-tropical region marked by high temperatures and sweltering humidity.

A September 30 report posted at BuzzFeed gave a graphic glimpse of what conditions are like on St. Thomas: “Akoya Emmanuel said she had two choices Friday morning: make the trek into town to find bleach to clean the mold from the exposed walls of her home or stand in line for hours to ensure her two daughters had something to eat that day.... ‘I have nothing. What we have been surviving on is those sausages and that’s if we get it. That’s our hope for today.’” Along with the sausages, the only food being distributed by the government are chips and candy bars.

These islands are U.S. colonies, and all the suffering and devastation is being made worse by U.S. domination and exploitation of the islands. They have been driven deeply into debt to U.S. finance capital, and the local government has barely three days of funding. Unemployment here is twice as high as the U.S. average. Over one third of the children live in families below the poverty line, most of whom get food stamps. Yet stores can’t take their payment cards because they need to be processed electronically, and power is still largely out. People are in extreme need, and discontent runs deep. The authorities are still imposing a curfew in parts of St. Thomas and St. John.



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