St. Thomas Continues To Deal With Destruction Caused By Hurricane Irma

Sep 16, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's been 11 days since Hurricane Irma swept over the island of St. Thomas as a monster Category 5 storm. And that island in the Caribbean is still reeling. NPR's Jason Beaubien is at the Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas. That's the main operations center for getting people off the island and on their way to Puerto Rico. Jason, thanks so much for joining us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: It's great to talk with you.

MARTIN: So describe the scene for us there at the Marina.

BEAUBIEN: This is an improvised boatlift that's happening here. You've just got people showing up with their luggage. You've got people showing up with their kids, their pets. The curfew lifts at 10 a.m. But even before that, there was a - dozens of people waiting here. Boats come in. And they try to get on.

Behind me, there's just all of these ripped up sheet metal buildings. This boatlift is sort of the main way that people are getting off at the moment. And some operators are coming over asking for like $200 a head. We talked to somebody this morning, though. She's been running back and forth. She normally runs a snorkeling company out of Fajardo in Puerto Rico. And she's just asking for donations for gas to keep doing this.

She says she's taken hundreds of people off of here. The boat that she was going to be leaving on - this guy Dalton Howell (ph) was trying to get on it. He basically says he can't stay here right now.

DALTON HOWELL: We have an apartment that we can go back to, but it hasn't had water or power for seven days. And it's not scheduled to have water or power for at least another - close to a month.

BEAUBIEN: He, unfortunately, was number 20 on the manifest to get on that boat. They're only able to take 19. So he and his girlfriend were number 20 and 21 - didn't get on that boat. And so they're at the dock waiting.

MARTIN: So why are people so pressed to get off the island right now? I mean, tell us a little bit more, if you would, about what people are facing.

BEAUBIEN: So thousands have already left. Thousands have definitely left by boat. Some of them have been flown out of here. They've medevac people out of the hospital because the hospital was destroyed.

The people that are left - they're here. But they don't have power. They don't have electricity. They don't know when this is going to come back. The streets are still littered in most parts of the island with debris. It's unclear whether tourists are going to be able to come back for months, which is sort of the mainstay of the economy here.

So people are just facing this future that's really uncertain. Nobody is starving right at the moment. I mean, they are getting out and passing out food. But people are saying there's nothing for me right now. And they don't see an end in sight.

MARTIN: So, Jason - important to point out - this is St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which means this is a United States territory. Is there any sign of a federal presence to assist with this?

BEAUBIEN: Yes. Definitely, it has shown up. You know, over the last few days, you've seen Marines out in the streets. There was some concern about security early on. FEMA has been setting up distribution centers for food.

Again, at the beginning, it was incredibly chaotic. People said they would show up and wait for hours at these long, long lines and then get one MRE - one meal ready to eat - and a couple of things of water. That has improved, people are saying.

So, yes, that presence is here. But it's kind of amazing. I'm standing here. There are all these people. These are all U.S. citizens. They're sitting here trying to just get a lift on a boat - who knows whose boat? - just anybody's boat who comes over. Eleven days after this disaster, people are basically trying to hitchhike on boats over to Puerto Rico.

MARTIN: So, Jason, before we let you go - and, obviously, there's still an immense immediate need there. But is there any sense of what's the thought about a reconstruction plan here?

BEAUBIEN: People are saying that it's going to be months even just to get the power operational across the island. Getting the airport going - they're saying it should be nine months. Getting the hospital going again - again, everybody's talking in terms of months to get that to happen. Right now people are trying to just get sort of the basics up and running so that people can survive and start that rebuilding process.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien. He's in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Jason, thanks so much for speaking to us.

BEAUBIEN: No, it's great to talk with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.