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Alexandra Blaise

Midterm History Essay

During the summer of 2017, the US Virgin Islands experienced two category 5
hurricanes: Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. I interviewed my maternal grandmother,
Claudia Rogers, about Hurricane Irma, which hit St. Thomas on September 6​, 2017 less than two
weeks later Hurricane Maria hit the US Virgin Islands on September 19, 2017. My grandmother
was born and raised in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.​ ​She​ ​is​ ​83​ ​years​ ​old​ ​and has three
daughters, including my mother. ​In the first interview, which was only background information
about the hurricane, my grandmother explained how she prepared for the hurricane, and the
aftermath​. This topic is very sensitive for her because, as I would imagine, just like anyone else,
they would be devastated if their home was ruined in just a matter of hours. They would have to
watch it everything around then be destroyed and not be able to do anything about it. I had to
conduct the interview over the phone because my grandparents were in Maryland, visiting from
St. Thomas for Thanksgiving. In the second interview, I talked with my grandmother to learn
more about her story and to get in depth information about her experience during the storm. ​The
hurricanes, Irma and Maria, devastated the US Virgin Islands during the summer of 2017 and
had a significant impact on the citizens long term, however this wasn't accurately documented in
the media.
The US Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean in the Lesser Antilles. The islands are
40-50 miles east of Puerto Rico and 1106 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. The Virgin Islands
consists of three main islands, St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas, which is where my
grandmother lives. The Virgin Islands were not always a US territory. “The islands remained
under Danish rule until 1917, when the United States purchased them for $25 million in gold in
an effort to improve military positioning during critical times of World War I. St. Croix, St.
Thomas and St. John became the US Virgin Islands”1. The Virgin Islands are located in an area
where hurricanes are very frequent. Therefore, they always have to be on alert during the active
hurricane season. The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins on June 1 and extends through
November 30, with the August- September time period being the most active. During the
hurricane season of 2017, the two memorable and horrific storms made history, Hurricane Irma
and Hurricane Maria, which made landfall less than two weeks after hurricane Irma. From an
article written a year after the two hurricanes hit, it states, “​But in the span of two weeks last
year, between September 6 and 20, our territory ​took direct hits from two Category 5 hurricanes​.
Irma struck first, pummeling the northern two islands of St. Thomas and St. John. Maria quickly

1
​"Virgin Islands History." Virgin Islands. https://www.vinow.com/general_usvi/history/.
followed, making landfall on St. Croix”2. ​Unfortunately my grandparents experienced both of
these storms, resulting in a lot of damage not only to their homes, but to other buildings and
landscapes they were accustomed to seeing.
Hurricane Irma was a category 5 when it hit the US Virgin Islands, which inflicted a lot
of fear amongst the citizens that had this experience, including my grandparents.​ ​When
conducting the second interview with my grandmother shared the emotions that she was
experiencing during the hurricane.“Alright, uhh, during the storm, emotionally it was scary for
me, but I prayed. I prayed to God, and everytime that there was noise and I heard things flying
outside I would say a prayer and ask God to keep us safe, spare our life. And at one point I just
sang, and umm to keep my mind from paying attention to the noises from the wind that was
blowing outside”3 .​ The way my grandmother was feeling during the hurricane demonstrates how
traumatic this storm truly was for these people, and that it was traumatizing to a point where
people would start to think that they could possibly lose their lives. As stated above, hurricane
Maria happened shortly after Hurricane Irma. Even though my grandparents had just gone
through hurricane Irma they had to quickly be prepared for another hurricane. Fortunately,
Hurricane Maria wasn't as alarming as the first hurricane. When asking my grandmother about
the experiences through the second storm she said, “But with the second storm Maria, we didn't
have any flooding. We had better protected ourselves. Only with Irma we had flooding”4.
Luckily for my grandparents they weren’t as badly affected by hurricane Maria as Irma, but
having two hurricanes back to back for some people was very traumatizing. Overall the long
lasting impacts of these two hurricanes is very heartbreaking and will leave memories that no
one that experienced the hurricanes will be able to forget.
The traumatizing experience the Virgin Islands had during hurricane Maria and Irma was
devastating and heartbreaking to the natives of the islands, but the media didn't display that as
much as they should have. In the media, reports were stating that Hurricane Irma first hit the
United States, when it hit Florida, however in reality, it first made landfall in the US, when it hit
the US Virgin Islands. The hurricane made landfall in the US Virgin Islands as a category 5
storm, but hit Florida as a category 3 storm. When interviewing my grandmother she explained
to me how severe the storm was and the damage the Islands undertook,
“Ok. Uhhh the house where we live, the spouting around the uhhh roof, uhhh in
some areas were blown off by the wind. It actually tore them off. And then uhhh… the
trees were blown down. The road from where we live down to the main road, there were

2
​Dadlani, Vinod P. "U.S. Virgin Islands – A Year after Irma and Maria." United Way
Worldwide. September 27, 2018.
https://www.unitedway.org/blog/us-virgin-islands-a-year-after-irma-and-maria.
3
​Second interview with Claudia Rogers (my grandmother)(0:09:18-0:56:99); December 9, 2018)
4
​ econd interview with Claudia Rogers (my grandmother)(3:07:18-3:21:98); December 9, 2018)
S
trees across the path. You couldn’t drive down, until the road was cleared. Ummm the
water was so much that it carved gulleys across the road,​ ​around the side of the road
making traveling in your vehicle impossible. And the other house that we have, umm the
roof was, half of the roof was ripped off, and the windows blown, blown out too”5.
Considering this, it is very unfortunate that the storm that hit the Virgin Islands wasn't as heavily
broadcasted as Florida because this delayed the aid that they needed to receive. Even though the
Virgin Islands are small, it is still a territory of the United States,, and should not have been
overlooked in such a way, because such actions can potentially put people’s lives in danger.
The US Virgin Islands is distinctively smaller than Puerto Rico, therefore Puerto Rico's
damage after Hurricane Maria was broadcasted more in the news reports. Just like any natural
disaster or a traumatic event, when it’s broadcasted in the news, there is usually more public
support and help for the affected areas because more people are aware about what happened.
Since more people were aware about the damaged that occured in Puerto Rico, they receive more
aid than the US Virgin Islands, even though the US Virgin Island experienced two category 5
storms and Puerto Rico was hit by Maria as a category 4 hurricane. The US gave aid to Puerto
Rico. Since the US was unable to directly send aid to the US Virgin Islands, they sent it through
Puerto Rico to distribute to them. Since the US media was unaware of this occurring, I was only
able to uncover this information because of my family that I have in the Virgin Islands. When
interviewing my grandmother, she stated to me why Puerto Rico was acting this way. “So that's
how we got over that because Puerto Rico had been damaged so badly that they would take the
stuff and take care of their people, so to make sure that we got what we were intended to, the
governor had to make arrangements”6. During that time when the Virgin Islands were not
receiving the resources they needed, it was very unfortunate to see how greedy the Puerto Ricans
were being, considering the Virgin Islands experienced a more powerful impact of Hurricane
Irma. Eventually the US Virgin Islands were able to obtain the resources needed to put the
recovery plan from the storm into action. Overall this shows how the media can easily control
people's perceptions of events. In the media, it was portrayed that everyone was receiving equal
aid from the US and people were recovering, but slowly; but in fact what was actually happening
was that while Puerto Rico was receiving all the aid, the Virgin Islands was left high and dry
suffering, until their local government stepped in and put actions into their own hands. My
grandmother had informed me in the interview what the government had to do in response to
Puerto Rico’s actions. “Yes, and our governour uhh worked around that and asked the persons
from the Trump Administrations that were in charge of it, FEMA and so on to send what they
had for the Virgin Islands through Miami, not through Puerto Rico”7. If the governor of the
Virgin Islands never took actions into their own hands, there would be a possibility that they
would have never received the resources they need, unfortunately.
5
​First
interview with Claudia Rogers (6:01:45-7:22:27); December 2, 2018
6
​Second
Interview with Claudia Rogers (7:39:70-7:59:88); December 9, 2018
7
​Second interview with Claudia Rogers (7:14:96-7:37:43); December 9, 2018
As well as other US territories, the US Virgin Islands gets their food and resources
imported from the states. After Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, food was somewhat limited
because transportation coming in and out of the Virgin Islands was not readily available at the
time. In addition, food was scarce because the citizens of the Virgin Islands were eager to get as
much food as they could before the hurricane from the supermarkets, as well as after the
hurricanes. In St. Thomas almost all of the supermarkets were damaged during the storm and
there was only one supermarket that the residents could purchased items from in the aftermath.
My grandmother experiencing how frantic the situation was shared with me what it was like for
her. “But it was hard going into the supermarket, and not finding things, the things that we
wanted or accustomed to buy. People just bought and hoarded up for themselves”8.​ ​In times like
this it’s inevitable that those citizens brain would go directly into survival; mode. A mode that
mainly only allows you to care about your own well being, unfortunately. The neighboring
island, St. Croix wasn't affected as drastically from Hurricane Irma as their sister islands, St.
John and St. Thomas. Therefore they helped them in anyway they could. From an article about
what the Virgin Islands had gone through during the two storms, it states, “​After Irma wiped out
St. Thomas and St. John, farmers from St. Croix donated 8,000 pounds of food to their sister
islands. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria’s 137 mph winds destroyed all crops on St. Croix.
United Way of the U.S. Virgin Islands​ was able to provide clothing, tools, and ironically, food to
these very same farmers in St. Croix​”9 .​ ​The senior citizens of St. Thomas were able to receive
aid from the workers at the supermarket to get the food quicker, which my grandparents were
luckily able to receive. “So the police and the national guard had to be there to direct, but one
thing was wonderful for me, they gave preference to senior citizens. So when we went, as soon
as we were approaching the supermarket, folks that were stationed there to work came up to us
and said, ‘you go in this line, this is the line for the senior citizens’”10. It was important for the
workers to have assistance from the national guard and the police officers because without them
the supermarket would have been chaotic. Since now it has been a little over a year since these
two hurricanes, the food situation is now better, but some of the supermarkets are not back to the
way they used to be.
The US Virgin Islands, as many other Caribbean Islands are a huge tourist attraction, in
fact that is the main revenue source for the Virgin Islands. Many jobs are the tourism industry,
such as working at tourist attractions or places that tourists usually visit when they go to the
Virgin Islands. Since the storms had nearly wiped out every building, the business of tourism has
been greatly affected as well. After Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, as of December 2018,

8
​Second
interview with Claudia Rogers (5:50:51-6:09:29); December 9, 2018
9
​Dadlani,
Vinod P. "U.S. Virgin Islands – A Year after Irma and Maria." United Way
Worldwide. September 27, 2018.
https://www.unitedway.org/blog/us-virgin-islands-a-year-after-irma-and-maria​.
10
​Second interview with Claudia Rogers (4:59:82-5:30:86); December 9, 2018
employment in this industry had fallen by 1,300 jobs, 35% jobs lost11. Puerto Rico’s damage was
more broadcasted on the media and they received more aid than the Virgin islands. Even though
the Virgin Islands suffered more damage to their islands. Puerto Rico lost a quarter of their jobs,
while the Virgin Islands had lost about nearly half of all their jobs in total. Tourists are
accustomed to arriving on cruise ships, but after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria hit the
number of tourists coming on cruise ships dropped from 600-700 thousand visitors to roughly
only 241 thousand visitors, which is approximately a 57% decline12. Along with this, visitors
coming by air transportation declined as well and hotels in the Virgin Islands were damaged
greatly, therefore that adds in another factor as to why tourism has declined so much since
Hurricane Irma and Maria. Evidently, it is very hard for the Virgin Islands to build up there
economy after Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma because of the large effect it had on the
biggest income, tourism.
It has now been a little over a year since the two hurricanes hit and the caribbean islands
are determined to get back on their feet. They continue to slowly repair the damage. FEMA has
been helping out with repairing people homes, roads, hospitals and other public areas, but
citizens still without roofs and are using “blue tarps” as a substitute for a roof. Another reason
why citizens are experiencing difficulty with having new roofs built on their house is because it's
very expensive to repair/build roofs on houses in areas that are located on steep hills, which is
the topography of these islands13. Along with people homes being damaged, schools were
wrecked to a point where it disrupted the education system. Students were no longer able to
attend school, since all the classrooms and school supplies were destroyed during the storm.
Fortunately students are able to begin to go to school once again. In addition to the schools,
hospitals were destroyed as well. The only hospital on St. Thomas, the Schneider Regional
Medical Center, serves over 55,000 residents between the island of St. Thomas and St. John.
During Hurricane Irma, the hospital suffered severe damage and lost a portion of its roof. As a
result, the majority of the patients had to be transported to other medical facilities. It was very
difficult to transport such a large number of sick people to hospitals in the states, and
unfortunately some of these people died while being transported to hospitals in the states.

11
​Allen, Greg. "Virgin Islands Still Recovering From 2017 Hurricanes As New Season Begins."
NPR. June 02, 2018.
https://www.npr.org/2018/06/02/615309394/virgin-islands-still-recovering-from-2017-hurricane
s-as-new-season-begins​.
12
​"New Data Reveals USVI Lost 4,500 Jobs After Irma And Maria; Territory's Heavy
Dependence On Tourism Seen As A Disadvantage." VI Consortium.
https://viconsortium.com/economy/new-data-reveals-usvi-lost-4500-after-irma-and-maria-territo
rys-heavy-dependence-on-tourism-seen-as-a-disadvantage/​.
13
​Allen, Greg. "Virgin Islands Still Recovering From 2017 Hurricanes As New Season Begins."
NPR. June 02, 2018.
https://www.npr.org/2018/06/02/615309394/virgin-islands-still-recovering-from-2017-hurricane
s-as-new-season-begins​.
FEMA, ​Federal Emergency Management Agency​, has helped the Virgin Islands immensely for
the past year and during the times of the hurricanes, as well as other small organizations. Some
of the many things FEMA did for the Virgin Islands include g​ iving the the ​Virgin Islands more
than $1.8 billion to help repair the damages, including $82.6 million in individual and household
assistance grants to more than 20,000 households, according to Eric Adams, a FEMA spokesman
in St. Thomas. Unfortunately because of Trump administration placing stipulations on the
money, a lot of that money was never sent to the Virgin Islands, or it wasn't enough considering
all the damage that occured14. ​They are doing everything they can in the past year to get back on
their feet, but surely it will take some time, but it starts with the people of the island to remain
faithful, just like they were during the storm.
When asking my grandmother about the after affects of the storm and if she thinks the
island of St. Thomas will ever be the same, she responded with, “Yeah, I have hope that we will
come back… better, not like it was. We are going to come back better. And that is the manstra,
or the saying of the island people. We are going to come back, and we are going to come back
better than we were before. Not as good as we were, but better”15. This kind of mindset that my
grandmother holds is the reason why people of the Virgin Islands are able to go through so many
disasters and still be able to get back on their feet, which isn't easy to do. With the help of other
regions and organizations, the Virgin Islands will be able to not just recover, but be better than
they were before the storm, as my grandmother believes.
Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria’s widespread devastation, the Virgin Island Division of
Banking, Insurance & Financial Regulation has issued a law that requires all property insurance
companies licensed in the territory to provide policyholders with detailed explanations of the
conditions under which they will be able to collect on claims made for damages to their property
as a result of future storms. They hope that this will help individuals get a fair response to their
claims and not be told that they do not have enough insurance, like a lot of residents were told
after the hurricanes16. In addition, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR)
and the FEMA also provided homeowners and contractors with updated building codes and

14
​Jervis, Rick. "A Year after Hurricane Irma, Private Groups Take the Lead in Rebuilding St.
John." USA Today. September 03, 2018.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/09/03/hurricane-irma-st-john-rebuilding-one-
year-later-love-city/1146557002/​.
15
​First interview with Claudia Rogers (10:45:20-11:10:85; December 2, 2018
16
​Additional Review Required of All Virgin Island Hurricane-Related Claims Where Property
Determined to Be Underinsured | Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog | Merlin Law Group."
Property Insurance Coverage Law Blog. February 19, 2018.
https://www.propertyinsurancecoveragelaw.com/2018/02/articles/insurance/additional-review-re
quired-of-all-virgin-island-hurricane-related-claims-where-property-determined-to-be-underinsur
ed/​.
guidelines for disaster preparation to be used when repairing homes. DPNR found that the
homes built using the building codes that were recommended after Hurricane Marilyn in 1995
were effective against Hurricane Irma. As a result, these building codes for “Construction for a
Stronger Home” will be enforced during the rebuilding process17. Overall, the US Virgin
Islands, and many other Caribbean islands, affected by Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma
have a long road to recovery; they have learned several lessons including that they can’t fully
rely on the government for recovery but they also have to rely on themselves as a community as
well.

17
​"DPNR and FEMA Update Residents on Building Code." St. Thomas Source. May 18, 2018.
https://stthomassource.com/content/2018/05/17/dpnr-and-fema-update-residents-on-building-cod
e/​.
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https://stthomassource.com/content/2018/05/17/dpnr-and-fema-update-residents-on-buildi

ng-code/​.

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