It’s been a few months since I last posted on WhatsUpNewp. With a busy summer schedule, it’s difficult to find time to research, sit down and produce. However, there are circumstances in life that call for attention and the devastation that occurred to the Virgin Islands in wake of Hurricane Irma fits this bill. I’ve posted about my time in the islands on many occasions and unfortunately this is the most important of that portfolio.
After reading a post from Jenn Manes, the editor of News of St. John, I felt compelled to take action. The post, which was forwarded to her father and posted stateside can be read here:
It served as a plea to those who have connections to the island to not let these people be forgotten.
As much as we all wish we could be there right now, that’s more mouths to feed and more meals/water that could go to those in need. Until we can get our rescue workers, first responders and medical professionals on the island to help those in despair, it is our responsibility to share the struggle our loved ones are enduring and raise awareness for their recovery. First responders and qualified personnel should take priority as we all yearn to fly down and pitch a helping hand. We must remain patient.
Their firsthand stories of survival are something out of a Hollywood movie script and something that no one should ever have to endure. But the people of St. John, St. Thomas and the surrounding islands are strong, steadfast and resilient. Their sense of community is unlike anywhere else in this world and it’s that sense of family that will help them get through the darkest of days in the history of the Virgin Islands. It’s essential that their pleas for help are heeded and we are able to get them the resources they need.
On Tuesday, Hurricane Irma made landfall with my home away from home, completely decimating St. John. Without power, access to wifi and cell towers down, communication with family and friends was nearly impossible for most of the day and the silence was piercing. I spent that day with two friends who were on vacation from St. John (as this is their off-season) and en route to a wedding in the Vineyard. They lost their home and possessions as did many others on the island. Thankfully, our small island family is safe. Some thought this is how it would end and more stories about close calls and true despair are coming to light as time progresses.
Most of this week has been spent checking our texts, Facebook pages and emails hoping to hear the news that our friends were safe. Updates began trickling in and information on people’s well-being slowly made its way across a concerned contingent of people following a Stateside St.Johnians Alliance for Hurricane Irma Facebook page that acted as a valuable resource for those concerned about their loved ones on the island. Lists of people who were seen safe and uninjured on the island that was written in sharpie marker on cardboard became a firsthand testament for many. Pictures of the destruction that occurred in Barbuda and St. Maarten only added to the worry as we awaited word on the condition of St. John.
Residents were under a government issued curfew until 6 pm on Wednesday but many wandered out to help others, find those who were unaccounted for and see what Irma had done to their homes and businesses. By late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, pictures of the devastation had circulated Facebook and photo albums of the aftermath were available for all to see. Our beautiful island was reduced to wreckage and ruin by the 200mph winds that Irma showcased in her wake of destruction.
With the implications of Harvey in the Gulf and the impending arrival of Irma to South Florida, many are concerned that the Virgin Islands will be forgotten. Without cell service, wifi and limited access to satellite phones, communication with media and loved ones in the continental U.S. is overwhelmingly difficult. Earlier today, the Today Show mentioned many surrounding islands but forgot to mention the USVI territories affected by the storm. As the day goes on, media outlets are starting to turn their attention to the VI’s but more press and exposure is necessary.
Let us not forget about our friends in the British Virgin Islands and surrounding communities. Most of Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke is completely destroyed and I can’t comprehend the damage the storm had on Anegada. The fleets of charter catamarans and sailboats that are synonymous with vacationing in the Caribbean have sunk, been swept onto land or capsized. The beautiful villas that line the coast have been reduced to rubble.
The British government came under serious fire Thursday morning for not providing enough aid to their Caribbean territories towards preparation and relief of these islands. Let’s ensure that the United States government does not make this same fatal mistake.
Many residents who are currently stateside have mobilized campaigns to get first responders and provisions down to the island and start the long process of recovery. Reports that planes and vessels from St.Croix will be making their way to the islands of St.Thomas and St.John soon have surfaced across social media and help is on the way. FEMA, the US NAVY and Coast Guard have all reported they are en route to help with resources. St.John Rescue posted this morning that they have three jets full of equipment and qualified personnel heading to the island and should be there by this weekend.
Kenny Chesney, a loyal friend to the island of St. John and a place he also calls home has been on No Shoes Nation radio and multiple national news channels telling the world about the type of people that live there, his love for the island and bringing awareness to the relief effort. His team is also organizing a “Love for Love City” campaign that will directly benefit the St.John relief fund and he has a plane ready to head for the islands with water and food. His reach is as important as any, as his No Shoes Nation following extends over millions of avid fans.
With many organizations and relief efforts underway, I have included a GoFundMe page that goes directly to St.John Rescue and provided a link to the St.John Community Foundation and their relief operations. Rich Willis, Patrick Murphy and I will be organizing fundraising efforts around Newport in the coming weeks to benefit St. John. Stay tuned for details on these local efforts.
So many people in Newport and the surrounding New England communities have ties to the United States Virgin Islands. It’s a place that calls out to you. Those who have visited know the sentiment of euphoria you experience when you reach the Caribbean and the love you feel that keeps you coming back year after year. It’s important that we give back to the place that has given us so much joy and solace. Let us not forget about those impacted by the storm in the USVI’s. Spread the word, contact your government officials, donate to the relief effort and help however you can.
From one island to another, we are connected by the sea and understand how beautiful and at the same time dangerous she can be to our communities. There’s so much wrong in the world but it’s times like these that show the true character and nature of the people that live within these small oceanfront communities. It’s our duty to help others when they are in times of need, a basic principle of humanity that has unfortunately gotten lost in times of trial and tribulation across our country.
We are all islanders and we must remember that we all share so much in common. We are strong, we are resilient, we are unbreakable and we will rebuild. With heavy hearts and unconditional love, Newport won’t forget the Virgin Islands.
Tyler Bernadyn is a local hospitality professional, bartending at Midtown Oyster Bar Wednesday through Sunday nights on the Burgee Bar and at Caleb&Broad on Monday nights for their award winning $10 entree dinner special.
Tyler is a graduate of Providence College and a true Rhode Islander, born and bred.
Email him at TylerBernadyn@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram at @tylerbernadyn.