St. Bart’s. St. Maarten/Martin. Tortola. Jost Van Dyke. St. John. St. Thomas.
I’ve visited every one of these islands, often repeatedly, in the last five years. And Hurricane Irene just did its damndest to wipe every one of these islands off of the map.
In some cases, it got about as close to succeeding as a hurricane can realistically get these days. All of the aforementioned Caribbean islands were basically flattened, hit by sustained Category 5 winds and massive rains. The pictures of the islands, denuded of most growth, are stunning. And all of these islands are so reliant on tourist income that it’s hard to imagine a recovery for years. That, in turn, will force thousands to leave in search of work, which could trigger another downward spiral and a generation of poverty.
St. John and Jost Van Dyke are particularly close to my heart because of the remarkable people on both islands. If you go there for any length of time, you’ll meet people you’ll never forget, and you’ll feel like they’re your personal friends (even though they meet thousands of people like you every year). And so, I immediately wondered if Seddy and Ivan (who’s really getting on in years) and Ali Baba and Foxy had survived the storm (they all did). I assumed Vinny was off the island, running his Harley dealership in Colorado (he was), and I was reassured by the fact that it was low season on the islands and a lot of people were gone anyway. But now they have nothing to come back to.
I certainly don’t want to discount the suffering of people in Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana in the wake of hurricanes there, but I am comforted by the fact that the resources and people of the United States government are easily mobilized to assist them. St. John and St. Thomas are part of the United States as well, but as islands far from the U.S. mainland, they must wait for supplies and become too easy to forget. The consequences of that are potentially awful.
I love these islands. In this time of need, I’m not going to forget them. You shouldn’t, either.