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Virgin Islands National Guard Provides Relief After Hurricane Irma

Sep 11, 2017
Originally published on September 11, 2017 8:19 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we've been following Irma's destructive path across Florida this morning. Of course, this storm's first landfall was in the Caribbean. And the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit very hard, with many police and fire stations wiped out, a hospital critically damaged. Along with FEMA, the Virgin Islands National Guard has been providing relief. Its leader, Brigadier General Deborah Howell is on the line from the island of St. Croix. General, good morning. Thanks for being with us.

DEBORAH HOWELL: Good morning, and thank you.

GREENE: So I gather you've seen some of the damage to these islands firsthand. What have you seen?

HOWELL: Yes. I've seen the damage firsthand, particularly on St. Thomas and St. Croix, where it was the hardest hit. But I want to look at September 11 as we commemorate the disaster on that day. And it speaks to the resiliency of the American people. So I'm grateful for that. The military - we are transitioning our war-fighting skills into civil support. And all military branches are assisting, along with our federal emergency management partners. We're looking at lifesaving. So we've done significant evacuations of our hospital patients - the critical and those that needed to be moved to St. Croix. St. Croix was not hit as hard. So what we've done is St. Croix serves at the logistics staging base.

GREENE: So that's a place you can bring people and actually handle the logistics. And since the damage was not...

HOWELL: Yes, sir.

GREENE: I mean, you were on St. Thomas, where I understand there was a lot of damage. I mean, can you just paint people a picture of how bad this is, in terms of structures and just a sense for how bad this was?

HOWELL: The structures are just not there. It's laying flat. The galvanized - even those individuals that had shuttered their homes - because we did improve our building codes - those structures are flat. So it's just rubble in most of the areas. On the ridges, everything - it's just sliding down. You see roofs. You see solar panels. You see shutters, light poles, everything. It almost looks like a bomb had exploded in the area. And there's no vegetation at all. So it's just pitch brown. It's an eerie feeling. And then you see people in between that need help. And that motivates us to go and do what we need to do.

GREENE: You're talking about rebuilding entire communities from scratch.

HOWELL: From scratch. Yes, sir. From scratch.

GREENE: How are people doing? I was following online. On St. John, for example, there were - there seemed to be a real desperate effort to make sure people were OK using Facebook and social media. Do you feel like you've tracked down people? Or there's still search and rescue that has to be taking place? We're still doing some search and rescue.

HOWELL: We've also brought in some communication assets, so that we can be able to reach those folks - the internet. Facebook has been a godsend on this one because that's how we've been able to communicate and get information out that we're OK, in some cases, for family members that live in St. Croix or continental U.S., as well. So that's been a good thing.

GREENE: Well, we'll be thinking of those islands. I know it must be very hard to see communities that are in such dire straits. But best of luck in your work. And we just really appreciate you taking the time this morning.

HOWELL: Yes, sir. Thank you. Thank you so very much for all your support.

GREENE: That's Brigadier General Deborah Howell - leads the Virgin Islands National Guard - responding to quite a lot of destruction in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And we'll be following their comeback from this hurricane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.