- Written by TODD VANSICKLE
- Published: 18 September 2017
Puerto Rico resident Diana Margarita has spent the past 10 days coordinating relief and support to the Virgin Islands after it was devastated by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6. But now her home could face the same fate as Hurricane Maria barrels toward the island.
“This Maria system got over the top us so quickly and we had to think about what we needed to do for ourselves as a country,” Ms. Margarita said.
The pending storm put relief efforts from the US territory on hold.
“We had more containers, but they are now stuck in San Juan awaiting Maria,” Ms. Margarita said.
As of 2 p.m. on Monday, Maria was forecasted as a Category 3 hurricane and is expected to approach the Virgin Islands on Wednesday, according to the Department of Disaster Management.
A US Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft reported that maximum sustained winds increased to about 125 mph with higher gusts.
Additional rapid strengthening is forecasted for the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to be a “dangerous major hurricane” as it moves through the Leeward Islands and the northeastern Caribbean Sea, according to DDM.
The pending storm comes at an unfortunate time as the VI struggles to get back on its feet from Irma. Most residents are still without power and a large portion of the population is either homeless or evacuating.
However, the VI received some good news on Sunday from the “Puerto Rican Navy,” a term for an informal group of sailors and boating enthusiasts from the island that frequently visits the VI, who delivered eight containers of supplies.
The containers were filled with food, water, building materials, medical supplies and clothing to name a few. Most of the items came from a checklist provided by DDM, said Ms. Margarita.
“The Puerto Rican navy as we are called has been working with big corporations, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and private individuals to get aid over to the BVI,” Ms. Margarita said, who also volunteers with Global Rescue, a provider of medical evacuation, repatriation and security extraction services for individuals, enterprises and governments.
On Sunday, VI Premier Dr. Orlando Smith greeted representatives of the Puerto Rican Navy and thanked them for their generosity and efforts.
“The people of the BVI are very fortunate to have such gracious visitors and neighbours,” Dr. Smith said. “It is extremely humbling to know that through our tourism product, we have such strong supporters of the BVI. We are grateful to the Puerto Rican Navy and I look forward to welcoming them to our shores for years to come.”
In July, about 400 boats with more than 2,000 Puerto Ricans participated in the annual Christmas in July boating excursion to the territory. One of the organisers of the group, Alicia Carazo explained that some members have been coming to the VI for 30 years.
“The BVI has been very welcoming to us over the years,” Ms. Carazo said. “We are not leaving the BVI, we will support you and we will be back to enjoy your great beaches.”
Supplies not only reached Tortola, but also Anegada, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda, according to organisers.
“It was really amazing to see how much love Puerto Ricans had and how much they wanted to give the BVI,” said Puerto Rican Navy organiser Tommy Dardet, who is also the BVI Tourist Board’s press office representative in PR. “We are just glad to be able to help and support the islands. The group has brought significant relief to residents on Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda and Tortola, making almost daily trips on private boats and planes dropping off supplies for residents.”
But getting the supplies to the VI wasn’t easy, Ms. Margarita said.
“The biggest obstacle was communication. Obviously, we wanted to do everything by the law. It was basically impossible without communication,” Ms. Margarita said. “We just had to make sure the chain of custody was handled by the right agency.”
On Facebook, reports circulated about vessels with supplies being turned away from the VI, as the United Kingdom Royal Navy, DDM, Ports Authority, Customs, Immigration and the VI government scrambled to organise a recovery plan.
Ms. Margarita said smaller vessels eventually delivered supplies days after the storm, but the larger containers could have reached the VI sooner with proper communication.
“We pretty much had containers ready by day three or four,” Ms. Margarita said.
On Monday afternoon, Ms. Margarita’s hurricane recovery efforts shifted to preparations, as she packed her belongings to evacuate to Michigan to escape the approaching Maria.
“I had to make sure my family had supplies,” she said, who was planning to leave the island on a 4 p.m. flight. “My parents are bunkered down in Ponce, but I can be more of a help in the United States where I will have power and communications.”
Ms. Margarita has not been to the VI since Irma, but she has monitored the situation via social media and said the photos of the damage is shocking and fears it may be what is to come for PR.
“I don’t even recognise half of the places I have seen [in the VI],” she said. “When pictures started coming in on Thursday, I knew this wasn’t going to be fixed in a couple of months. It is going to take years. I keep looking at the pictures thinking: Is Maria going to do this to my home? Am I going to recognise it?”