ST. CROIX, Virgin Islands (WFLA) — The Tampa Bay area put a much-needed smile on a devastated woman’s face after Hurricane Maria tore through St. Croix.
News Channel 8 Reporter Leslee Lacey recently toured the hurricane-ravaged Virgin Island. She traveled to the American Territory with a St Pete pilot during a relief effort about three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit.
It was clear that the US territory will be suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria for some time. When Leslee joined Jennifer Lockwood to deliver donations, she ended up driving through the streets and meeting a resilient former Floridian who felt forgotten in St Croix.
While walking through devastated neighborhoods, Leslee discovered a 70-year-old woman living on a small farm ripped apart by Hurricane Maria. Monica Plate showed Leslee damaged animal housing, a yard that was strewn with fallen trees, power lines, and overturned truck at the farm. Two of Monica’s goats and some of her birds were killed during the storm.
Leslee asked Monica, “How do you feel about the response you are getting?”
“I feel terrible. For so long. And nobody shows up to do nothing,” she responded.
To make matter’s worse, Monica has been sleeping under half of a roof for weeks. She signed up for FEMA’s blue roof tarp program, but says help never arrived. “At least if they had come and give a cover of the roof for me, that would have been good enough. But one day, I stand up there and I see the weather change, and I ask God, ‘Please let the rain fall in the bush, because I’m tired of wiping up and mopping up’,” Monica cried.
Eventually a neighbor gave her a small tarp. But it doesn’t cover her roof properly and the rain still comes in.
So, Jen and Leslee went searching for roof tarps. After traveling around the island, they discovered thousands of roof tarps on the side off the road, despite seeing hundreds of houses that needed roof tarps. The tarps were sitting behind a secured and guarded fence. There were also large generators and bottles of water located at this storage area.
Wondering why there were so many tarps sitting there while there were so many houses in need of them, Leslee spoke with a FEMA representative at the gate. He did not want to be shown on camera, but explained there was a process for distributing the tarps, so people who didn’t need them, wouldn’t take them for what FEMA deem unnecessary reasons.
FEMA works in conjunction with the Army Corp of Engineers, who implements the installment of the roof tarps, or sheets. Leslee then tracked down the Corp of Engineers.
Corporal PAO Lisa Parker said the roof tarps that Leslee saw were waiting to be distributed.
Corp Colonel Christopher Clark was also at the interview and explained the limited amount of manpower puts constraints on how fast they can get the tarps onto houses, but they had already installed about 200 tarps across all three US Virgin Islands.
There are also rules stipulating whether residents will qualify for a roof tarp, including how much of the roof is still available.
The Army Corp of Engineers explained that residents must sign up for the program, then inspectors come out and see if the structure qualifies. If they are approved, an installation crew returns and installs the roof tarp. This process can take several days or even a couple weeks.
The Corp says they face communication challenges with reaching people, due to no cell service, no power and street signs missing from the storm. However they do have people walking through neighborhoods and understand the frustration that comes with trying to help people in such dire circumstances. But they say, they also must follow their protocols and rules for liability reasons.
Meanwhile, Jennifer remembered someone donated a large tarp to her relief effort that would properly cover Monica’s roof. Leslee and Jennifer picked up the tarp and headed back to Monica’s. Jennifer then organized volunteers to install Monica’s tarp, which put a huge smile on her otherwise distraught face.
“Thanks for your help. You have been such a good help for me I appreciate it,” said Monica to Leslee. “I’m glad I found you,” replied Leslee.
Monica, like many other Crucians, as they call themselves, knows there is a long haul to rebuild. And many believe there is room for improving how quickly disaster agencies are able to help people. She still remains undecided whether she will move back to Florida after experiencing such a stressful situation.
If you would like to help in the relief efforts for St Croix you can contact FEMA to volunteer and also contact http://www.usvirelief.org to aid in helping the Virgin Islands recover from Hurricane Maria and Irma.
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