Jennie Rabinowitz, a graduate of Calhoun High School who has been living on St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, for the past five years, said that she was among the fortunate ones to weather Hurricane Irma’s wrath from the safety of a bunker when the storm struck the island last week.
As she headed toward the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico over the weekend in a boat that held 12, “there were at least 40 people waiting at the marina, just hoping for a boat to come and pick them up,” Rabinowitz, 30, said.
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Kenneth Mapp, said at a Sept. 10 news conference that two cruise ships had been set to pick up 2,000 tourists from the islands, and that an estimated 70 percent of island police personnel lost their homes during the Category 5 hurricane that struck on Sept. 6. Emergency aid and military personnel were expected to be housed in vacant hotel rooms that were unscathed, Mapp said.
“It’s a disaster,” said Rabinowitz, adding that she had heard reports of armed carjacking and house looting across the island. “It’s a really bad situation there now.”
Rabinowitz said she was safe in a friend’s underground bunker when Irma struck. The next day, she emerged and joined a group of friends in somber rounds on foot, surveying the damage to their properties.
“We stepped outside and it was mass destruction,” she said. “Roofs had flown off, trees were down … thank God all of my friends seem to be safe, but power’s down throughout most of the island, and cell service is very limited.”
Rabinowitz only had time to pack one book bag when she and her friends found a boat leaving for San Juan last Sunday, and she said she worries about what she might find when she returns home.
“My whole life is there,” she said. “I don’t know what will be there when I get back, or if people will have rummaged through my home.”
Still, Rabinowitz, along with friends Chrystie Payne and Kacie Marano, was concerned that the islands’ difficult recovery from the storm might be overshadowed by relief efforts stateside. The three quickly started to raise awareness, by starting an online fundraising effort and by contacting various media outlets.
“The hospital [on St. Thomas] has sustained significant damage, and patients were evacuated,” she said. “We have emergency medical relief stations set up where doctors on the island are doing the best they can with the supplies they have, but we are quickly running out.”
Because many people were already collecting food for survivors, “We’re trying to do medical supplies,” she said.
Rabinowitz said that she was lucky to work for a company with an office in Washington, D.C., and that she hoped to return to her parents’ home on Long Island over the weekend temporarily.
“There are people whose entire lives are here, though, with no ties in the states,” she said.
According to Rabinowitz, the only way for medical supplies from the States to reach St. Thomas directly, for now, is by private plane. So she and her friends were purchasing all the supplies they could in Puerto Rico, to be sent by boat to the island.
As of Tuesday, she said, her group of volunteers had arranged for one doctor, three emergency medical technicians and one boatload of supplies for St. Thomas. “We’ve been working our asses off,” she said. “We’re trying to mobilize.”
By all accounts, rebuilding and recovering in the Virgin Islands will not be a quick — or easy — process. “This is a horrific disaster,” Mapp said at Sunday’s news conference. “There will be no restorations or solutions in days or weeks.”
To donate to Rabinowitz’s fundraising campaign, visit http://bit.ly/2wSBWHI.
You can also make a donation directly to the American Red Cross by visiting its website, www.redcross.org.