Exactly one week ago today, the U.S. Virgin Islands and several nearby Caribbean islands were devastated by Hurricane Irma. This category five storm was a direct hit to the tiny island of St. John, where I was raised and my parents currently live. St. John, St. Thomas and several neighboring islands are devastated. My heart goes out to everyone who endured the extreme conditions of Hurricane Irma. It is gut wrenching to hear the stories of survival and to view the photos and videos of the aftermath of the storm. So many people were forced to take shelter in laundry rooms, bathrooms, and closets for hours in fear of their lives while they waited out the storm. People have lost their homes, their businesses, and all of their belongings. The situation down there is dire, and the people of the Caribbean need our help.
If you have ever been to the Virgin Islands, you know that it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Home of white sand beaches, palm trees, and crystal clear turquoise water. The smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands is St. John, and its nickname is “Love City.” When you travel or live in St. John, you immediately see that this is a community of kind hearted people. The community is strong and the friendships you make down here are long lasting. The people make this island so incredible.
I am still living in Wanaka, New Zealand, and I feel like I am a million miles away. It took more than 48 hours to hear that my parents made it through the storm. It felt like an eternity and I was an emotional wreck. My parents were finally able to reach my brother, Zac, via a satellite phone and let him know that they were okay. He passed along the message to me. We are very fortunate that our house weathered the storm with minimal damage. I still have not spoken with my parents, since internet and cell service is unavailable in Coral Bay, where our house is located. Slowly internet is being restored in Cruz Bay (the other side of St. John), so I hope that I will hear from my parents soon. The important thing is that they are okay and I know that they will get in touch when they can. I am grateful for the support of my friends and family, both near and far, who helped me stay positive and strong throughout this painful experience. Thank you – you know who you are.
To be completely honest, I feel helpless being so far away. After speaking with my friends off island, I realized that many of us feel this way. We want to help and we want to be there for our friends and family. I’ve tried to help in my own ways – donating money, trying to raise awareness via posts on social media, and sending love and positivity to the islands during my yoga and meditation practice. I’ve been trying to stay current, but the lack of media coverage makes it a challenge (especially in NZ). I depend on my friends, brother and Facebook for information and updates. Chelsea, Mia, Kaitlyn, Katie and Cynthia have been a huge resource in keeping me informed. Facebook is a wealth of knowledge (but takes a lot of filtering out BS!) and was crucial in helping us discover who is still missing and needs help. Many of my friends lost their homes, boats, and businesses. Our infrastructure has been destroyed. I’ve heard that power may not be restored until early 2018. Cell towers are down and people cannot get in touch who need help. Supplies are limited. It is devastating to see the extent of the damage. However, it has been inspiring to see the photos and videos of our people coming together to help rebuild our island community. My friends and their parents have been integral in rescue and evacuation efforts, clearing the roads, delivering supplies, restoring order and instilling a positive environment on island, and much more. You make me proud. I am moved by those who’ve had the courage to speak up in the media and bring attention to our little islands so that the U.S. government continues to send help. The outpouring of love by our community of islanders who live stateside and abroad, as well as those who love to vacation in the Virgin Islands, has been incredible. I am also grateful to the celebrities that have used their platforms to bring in donations, supplies, and support. Virgin Islanders – I am truly inspired by your resilience and your hearts. We will rebuild, one day at a time. #LoveCityStrong #StJohnStrong #VirginIslandsStrong #Caribbean Strong
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