In White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, the boats are back.
Seddy’s One Love, Gertrude’s Beach Bar, Coco Locos and Soggy Dollar regularly teem with charter guests sucking down painkillers and lazing on gigantic flamingo floats.
It’s not an illusion: According to Tom Warner, the general manager of Foxy’s Tamarind Bar in Great Harbour, the legendary tourist spot is at “100 percent.”
What were splinters of wood in October and later bare sketches of buildings are now full-fledged bars and restaurants.
All told, 14 bars in JVD were open as of Aug. 6 , according to the BVI Traveller website, which chronicles the recovery of the tourism industry. That’s down from 21 in total listed on TripAdvisor, which includes both open and closed properties. As for lodging, however, BVITraveller lists just four open properties as of the same date, down from nine hotels and villas listed on TripAdvisor.
Although many business have mostly recovered, the population hasn’t, according to Mr. Warner, who said some of the families who left will not be back.
“A lot of people were expats and there really isn’t the work they were accustomed to doing,” he said.
And even though business has rebounded at most bars, many of them were also hotels, which have not recovered as well.
“Our staff is half the size that it was,”he said.“[Laying off staff] was the hardest thing that we did.”
Living in a tent
Meanwhile, some residents have been struggling with a lack of shelter. About 10 months after Irma took his home, Christian “Walkie” Callwood was still living in a tent.
“Ever since the hurricane,” he explained as he swept the floor at Corsairs Beach Bar & Restaurant on a quiet Sunday afternoon in late June in the brand-new, rebuilt restaurant in Great Harbour.
His home was destroyed, and he was still waiting for someone to help him come fix it.
Vinny Terranova, owner of Corsairs, said Mr. Callwood is “a ward of the state,” but the state is not helping him.
“He depends on us,” Mr. Terranova said. His partner, Debbie Beauchamp-Terranova, added, “The tent is starting to disintegrate. They’re just temporary shelters. Nobody’s supposed to live in a tent that long.”
Following Irma, roughly 80 families on the island of some 300 residents were displaced and forced to stay with friends or relatives, according to the Department of Disaster Management.
Some of them, like Mr.Callwood, moved into donated Shelterbox tents, provided through the Rotary Club, and seven of them still haven’t left, according to a source with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified.
Feeling cut off
Like the rest of the islands after Irma, JVD was left without electricity, running water or communications from the outside world — including from its own government.
Justine Callwood, who grew up on the island, said that feeling cut-off is fairly typical of small island life. “I think with the isolation, the lack of dependency on a safety net, others were more surprised by the lack of the government response than we were,” she said.
But she also agrees with many JVD residents, who, when asked who helped them the most, point to one of three private-sector groups: singer Kenny Chesney’s Love for Love City; Convoy of Hope, a non-profit organisation that has been working closely with Little Thatch Island owner Curt Richardson; and the Puerto Rican Navy, an informal organisation of boaters who delivered eight containers full of food, water, clothing, medical supplies and building materials after the storm.
“Puerto Rico really stepped up,” said Chris Cloud, a former manager of White Bay Villas. “They were the ones that were always coming to the island. Then they got hit by their own hurricane. Then even though [Jost] is the second biggest port [in the territory], it had to survive on its own.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Chesney’s organisation purchased a 3,000-gallon-per-day desalination machine for the island.
Both Love for Love City and Convoy also brought hundreds of volunteers over the past year, who tackled repairs on the JVD customs dock, the medical centre in Great Harbour, and the primary school — projects that are nearing completion after some delays, according to Ms. Callwood.
Locally, Philliciano “Foxy” Callwood, owner of Foxy’s Tamarind Bar in Great Harbour, worked with the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society to handle many of the donations received from abroad.
“When it comes to fundraising after the storm, Foxy, with any money that was coming his way, he put it through the JVD Preservation Society,” Mr. Warner said.
The organisation helped fund the purchase of a Kubota skid loader to clear debris from the island, which formerly lacked the necessary heavyequipment. Ninety families also received $700 in cash to help rebuild their homes, funded through the society.
Meanwhile, JVD resident Franky Chinnery and the owners of Glass House BVI in White Bay, through their #JVDStrong campaign, raised enough funds by April to purchase a container full of building materials including plywood, sheathing, galvanised roofing, and fasteners. According to the group’s website, those materials were enough to help rebuild four homes, with enough materials left over to build six more. In August, they were raising money to pay residents to build those homes.
“It’s not necessarily to a level where we would like to build in anticipation of future storms, but there’s a need for immediate housing that must be satisfied,” Ms. Callwood said.
Feeding the hungry
Such programmes are a continuation of the immediate assistance that many community members rendered during and after the storm.
When Irma hit Great Harbour, for example, the staff at Foxy’s Tamarind Bar had only one thing on their minds: hospitality. Mr. Warner rode out the storm at Foxy Callwood’s house alongside about two dozen other people.
“The eye had passed and we were getting spanked by the second half. Outside, the place is getting brutalised,” he said. “I’ll never forget: Foxy says, ‘What are we going to do if someone comes by?’”
Short answer, they fed them. The next day, after Mr. Warner fixed the damaged generator — one of only a few on the island — they transformed the bar into a community kitchen, serving up hot food and cold beer to residents, the Puerto Rican Navy, Virgin Islands Search and Rescue volunteers, Royal Marines, and even a couple of brave tourists who refused to flee.
“It was known they could pop in here and get something to eat,” Mr.Warner said. “We provided a rock when there wasn’t a rock at the time.”
Help from abroad
Chris and Debbie Cloud, the former White Bay Villas managers, were in Virginia when Irma hit, and found themselves becoming a portal of information for JVD, whose residents, like the rest of the VI, had been cut off from the outside world.
“I was talking to FEMA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, ships in Puerto Rico, down island to some of the embassies,” Ms. Cloud said.
She teamed up with Susan Zaluski, director of the JVD Preservation Society — who was also off island — and chartered a relief yacht full of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. It didn’t get to the island as soon as they’d hoped, however.
“Logistics,” Mr. Cloud said by way of explanation.
In spite of the influx of local and foreign aid attempts, in October Ms. Zaluski reported a chaotic and disorganised response to the storm, with helpers stepping on each other’s toes and the volunteers, in turn, having their toes stepped on by the government.
Now, many other islanders concede that she was right.
“There were a lot of relief efforts that went for nought,” Mr. Cloud said. “When a boat stopped in Tortola, it was stripped bare because people were desperate… We found a way to get supplies from the States to land. Eventually we got it to go straight to Jost to bypass the other ports.
“I do know that many of our close acquaintances over time got extremely frustrated with the bureaucracies. I’m hoping the government is looking at this. You need first responders working together. We still didn’t see that happening.”
For Ms. Callwood, the ultimate reason for the chaos is the lack of direct representation in government for JVD. However, she added, “To be honest, [JVD residents] are fairly bad at making their wishes known. We don’t have a unified community group.”
Other nagging issues remain. Electricity was restored in January, but the one functioning grocery store is “rather minimal and doesn’t address the needs of the island at all,” according to Ms. Callwood. Water, which sometimes didn’t flow even before Irma, to pose issues as well.
Still, in the weeks after Irma Ms. Callwood never would have thought the tourists would come back like they have. She credits Mr.Chesney for conveying to the world that the relaxed island lifestyle his music promotes still exists.
“It’s that constant message that’s gotten out to people,” she said. “We didn’t have any other mouthpieces than those blurbs.”
Ms. Callwood added that there are lessons to be learned — like not depending on others for help.
“There is so much I envision could happen if Jost Van Dykians could take ownership of their disaster preparedness plan,” she said.
Of course, like much of what happens on JVD, she said, the gears are turning slowly. But some are turning. In March, DDM Director Sharleen DaBreo announced that JVD would be a focus of the new SMART communities initiative, aimed at building greenness and resiliency — along with a $50,000 retrofitted hurricane shelter.
In July, Ms. Zaluski said that the UK-based aid organisation Team Rubicon was preparing to visit the island in partnership with the BVI Red Cross to conduct disaster preparedness training for residents.
Ms. Callwood added that many of the structures being rebuilt are more flexible and resilient, such as Foxy’s Taboo.
“We’re choosing to go with a much smaller version,”she said.
Many other residents have also managed to spin something positive out of the disaster.
“These are people that are broke, uninsured, used salvaged lumber and all this kind of stuff to make it happen,” Mr. Warner said. “And they’ve been working 16-hour days making it happen.”
All in all, he added that JVD residents should be proud of what they’ve accomplished in a year.
“It could be argued that we got hit harder than anyone else did, and that we got helped less than anyone else did, and that we’ve come a lot further than anyone else has,” he said.