St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. It might look a little different than it did last year.
When two Category 5 hurricanes tackled these islands leaving them barren and depleted.
But there is so much more to the VI than these storms.
In the next 30 minutes we’ll take a look back, at the inspiring stories and spirit that kept the Virgin Islands going, and more importantly look forward, at the challenges that still lie ahead, the lessons learned, and the unbreakable bond that keeps the US Virgin Islands together.
Tyler Rice and Liz Nurse love their St. Thomas community. So after Hurricane Irma hit, they immediately looked for ways to help. One of the biggest ways was putting roofs back over the heads of St. Thomas residents.
“We brought in the different contractors that would do the jobs and we essentially helped to get the material to the job.” Tyler Rice, Coordinator, FEMA Blue Roof Project said.
Rice and Nurse along with other carpenters and workers joined the FEMA Blue Tarp Project. That helped place blue tarps over people’s homes to act as a temporary roof. But they had no idea just how difficult the job could be.
“This is one of the special cases where they actually had disqualified this house because they didn’t think getting material here would be possible,” Rice added.
Their last job on their blue tarp tour, this home on a hill above Savon, nearly 66 stairs up. And they did it all, by foot.
“Yeah you keep going up the Hill from here with 60 sheets of plywood,” Rice added.
Looking at the terrain they had to cross to meet this house, the job seems nearly impossible. And that’s what many others who turned down the job said- as they called it a doomed job. But this particular team wasn’t about to give up.
“The biggest reason we got involved was because we just really wanted to help so in cases like this where it just takes a little bit more effort it was really for us to just put in the time,” Liz Nurse, Co-Coordinator, FEMA Blue Roof Project said.
Because of this group and several others like them, over 200 homes got blue roofs. Thanks to their effort, the home that thought it was forgotten, got one too.
“They have something to protect them from the weather and start the process of moving forward,” Nurse added.
In the days following Hurricane Irma, a group of friends put their heads together and asked, how can we help? The result an incredibly effective non-profit that is still around today, helping St. John return to what it was.
“You get this inspiration after an event like this to be involved civically and that definitely happened to us so this is something where we’re not only looking at responding to the storm and helping people recover from it but prepare in the future,” Stephen Libby, Senior Project Manager of Love City Strong, Inc said.
Libby is a part of that original group of bartenders, waiters and business owners that banded together for their Island, locally known as Love City. They call themselves Love City Strong. Now he helps lead projects for continuing recovery efforts on St. John.
In just crews of 3 to 4 people, Love City Strong goes out to help homes dealing with mold issues or clean water.
“It wasn’t like, ‘ok I need to help,’ it was, ‘we need to have action we need to take action and these are the things that need to be done and lets do them,” Tenehsa Keyes, Co-Founder/ Board Member, Love City Strong said.
Keyes is one of the members of the Water Team and also a cofounder and board member for Love City Strong.
Between Keyes, Libby and the dozen other members of the team, Love City Strong has helped countless families get roofs above their heads, water working in their homes, and given them a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of Irma.
But they couldn’t do this alone.
Help from the community, private donations and incredible support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, led by Bloomberg Co-Founder Tom Secunda, helps keep the LCS mission going.
“We’ve come a long way. Coming out the following day after the storm, the first thing we think is ‘wow ,where do we go from here, this is so bad.’ A year later to see some of the things that have transpired, you know organizations that didn’t exist pre-storm and now are strong entities,” Ian Samuel, Community Relations, Secunda Family Foundation said.
Thanks to a group of friends just wanting to do more. Love City is now stronger than before.
::Aerial of Torola file footage from Bob::
When Irma hit, St. Thomas, St. John and the British Virgin Islands – St. Croix was left relatively unharmed.
But as we found, their love for their sister islands runs deeper than the waters that separate them.
When boat company owner Matt Ridgeway saw images of the damage on the other islands, he immediately stepped into rescue mode.
“As soon as the curfew was lifted we asked for volunteers to come down and bring whatever hurricane relief supplies they could,” Matt Ridgeway, Owner, Caribbean Sea Adventures said.
Soon, the dock in Christensted, St. Croix was full of food, water, and whatever supplies they could get across the water. It wasn’t a quick trip, the journey to St. John took 4 hours- one way alone. Ridgeways’ crew did about 27 trips.
“At the end of the day, I’m just a boat captain so I did what came naturally to me. We loaded our boats with as much food and water as we could safely carry and we left and headed across the way,” he added.
“It all started as a Facebook event, then turned into a massive relief effort bringing hundreds of volunteers to the boardwalk in St. Croix before the boats left beginning the long journey to St. Thomas and St. John to deliver supplies and then bring back evacuees.
But just two weeks later, another hurricane hit. This time it didn’t spare St. Croix. It knocked out Rideways’ dock, but that didn’t stop them from their mission. Matt, his sister Sarah and many others stepped up not only for St. Croix, but continued their trips to St. John and St. Thomas, even after Maria hit.
“It was obviously a very stressful time but it is incredible to have that sense of purpose and be surrounded by the other people that feel it also, and they just want to help each other, it is absolutely incredible,” Ridgeway added.
Ridgeway said it wasn’t just him, or his boats, or his crew. It was all of St. Croix, that came together, to help the other saints in a time of need.
“St. Croix showed their true colors and it is such an honor to know that there are still great people in this world that will do anything for their neighbour.”