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The U.S. Virgin Islands are devastated from hurricanes and need relief, too

Amrit Singh

 // Oct 2, 2017

Hilary Swift // New York Times

As citizens of New Orleans, south Florida, and now Puerto Rico can attest: In the wake of devastating hurricanes, it can be difficult to sustain enough attention to get federal and voluntary relief and rebuild to a semblance of normalcy. But in the case of the U.S. Virgin Islands, comparably brutalized by the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, it's tough enough just to generate attention in the first place.

The Virgin Islands are still largely without power or cell service, they are in a full-on humanitarian crisis, and they need our help, too.

Hurricanes Maria and Irma were both Category 5 when they hit the Virgin Islands, the U.S. territory which includes tropical paradise isles like St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John . Of the more than 103,000 people that reside in the area, most are still without power, and the lingering debris has made it difficult to move relief supplies to the areas inland where they are most needed.

The full extent of the damages from these hurricanes still hasn't been fully determined, and, to make matters worse, hurricane season isn't quite over. Even more damage is possible.

At the time of publish, the entire island of St. John's is still without current, while St. Thomas has 30% power. Roughly 30% of residents now have cell phone service.

President Trump plans to visit the islands on Tuesday during his trip to visit Puerto Rico, which he has begun paying more attention to of late. While some commercial flights resumed to the Islands late last week, schools remain closed until October 9th, and a sense of frustration and need still runs rampant. It may take months, likely even years, for a true sense of normalcy to return to the Virgin Islands. This is due to the territory's dire financial straits, which has made getting access to basic needs like water and power during non-storm times unpredictable. The hurricanes have broken the islands' already tenuous systems beyond recognition.

Naturally it's difficult for the Islands' residents to feel good about getting competitive with the likes of Puerto Rico for resources and attention, but with a situation so bleak, they want to ensure their needs aren't forgotten.

This begs the question: Why aren't the Virgin Islands getting the same play as Puerto Rico after these hurricanes?

There's no definitive answer, though there's some context that may help paint the picture. The Virgin Islands are economically depressed at the moment. The unemployment rate is twice the national average, while the territory's debt has grown to the point that financial institutions have ceased lending it money. And this hurricane hasn't helped matters. According to local business owners who spoke with the New York Times, "the economy dried up overnight," and with the local government broke, it's unclear how the Islands will rebuild after this.

Puerto Rico is also in deep financial crisis, having declared bankruptcy in May. But the Virgin Islands status as "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" -- born perhaps from their further geographic location, though others also attribute it to their large black population -- has left them wallowing in the dark.

You can help citizens of the Virgin Islands by contributing to the 21 U.S. Virgin Island Relief Fund, founded by former Spurs hall-of-famer Tim Duncan to help the Virgin Islands in the wake of Irma, and of course now Maria, too. There's also the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.

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