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Americans in U.S. Virgin Islands feel forgotten in the wake of Irma

September 13, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
Hurricane Irma hit the U.S. Virgin Islands as a category 5 storm days ago, but many residents who continue without electricity or running water complain they are being forgotten. Jordyn Holman of Bloomberg joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the recovery operations underway on the islands.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We keep our focus on the Caribbean and the havoc Irma unleashed on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Jordyn Holman of Bloomberg just returned after spending 36 hours in the U.S. territories, where some complain they’re being forgotten. We begin with what she witnessed.

JORDYN HOLMAN, Bloomberg: So, I went to the Virgin Islands, where they were hit by a Category 5 Hurricane Irma last week. So, I went to St. Thomas and St. John, which really got the brunt of the hurricane.

I saw a lot of devastation. It’s a tourist attraction, usually plush, green, beautiful island. It was pretty much barren from the strong winds, a lot of utility poles down, a lot of crushed cars, houses without roofs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what are the circumstances people are living in now? Do they have — do most people have a place to live?

JORDYN HOLMAN: So, on the islands, electricity is really down. There’s not running water in a lot of homes.

Like I said, roofs are off of homes, so people are living in complete darkness. There’s no A.C. It’s a very hot island. And so people are just trying to find a way out or to figure out how to hunker down and work through the situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, they have decided to stay, most of the people you talked to?

JORDYN HOLMAN: Some of the people I talked to, some were waiting in line to get on a boat to go to Puerto Rico to get a flight to the mainland.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jordyn, we have been reading about some folks who live down there being angry, upset that they haven’t been getting more help, more support, because these are, after all, the U.S. Virgin Islands. What were they telling you about that?

JORDYN HOLMAN: Yes.

So, when I was in St. Thomas, which is a very touristy attraction, I talked to some residents up there who were on a hill. They felt like they hadn’t gotten enough aid. They would have to walk down the hill to get water or medical assistance. And they just didn’t feel like the attention was put on them like we had coverage for Florida and Texas.

And so some people wanted, you know, to get more federal aid. You know, President Trump has said that he’s planning on coming down within the week, but some people wanted a quicker response.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you see in the way of help when you were there? Who was providing the help?

JORDYN HOLMAN: So, the Coast Guard was there. The U.S. Marines, they were helping out. But a lot of it was volunteers, people who were on St. Croix, another island of the Virgin Islands, who got over on their boats, a two-hour ferry, just to give water, assistance, sometimes hugs, just to tell people like, hey, we are all in this together and we can try to help you get off this island if need be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know that these islands depend on tourism for their economy. What is the state of their hotels, the tourism system there?

JORDYN HOLMAN: Pretty much everything is closed.

One woman I spoke to, she works in a restaurant and a hotel on the side. Both places are closed. So this means people aren’t getting incomes on top of already losing their homes. They’re not getting the paycheck that they so badly need to maybe evacuate to Puerto Rico or the mainland. So, it’s just everyone’s in a rough spot, especially since their economy is built on tourism.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jordyn, one other thing. We have already read some accounts of some crime taking place, people taking advantage of the situation. Did you see or hear about that at all?

JORDYN HOLMAN: I think the biggest concern people had was with safety.

Because their houses don’t have roofs or there’s no lock on their door, and there’s no electricity at night, people are just in the pitch darkness. And they’re with their children, who just, you know, want to be safe. School’s out, so everyone was really just trying to help out each other. And there is a curfew for people to stay inside during those dark hours. So, I think everyone is just focusing on their personal safety right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it sounds like this is going to take some time to work on.

JORDYN HOLMAN: Yes.

FEMA says this is not a months-long or a weeks-long recovery. It’s going to be a years-long recovery.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know that we’re all thinking about them, and thank you for sharing what you saw with us.

Jordyn Holman with Bloomberg, thank you.

JORDYN HOLMAN: Thank you.

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