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6 Weeks After Hurricane Irma, Daily Life Remains A Struggle On U.S. Virgin Islands


More than a month after Hurricane Maria, schools are reopening in Puerto Rico. We'll hear about that in a bit. First, let's look at the Virgin Islands, flattened by Maria and Hurricane Irma. They are ever-so-slowly recovering.

GERRY YANDEL: There are no more lines for gas, or to get prescription meds or to get in the grocery stores. But driving around, there are piles of debris everywhere. There's still a lot of power poles down on the sides of the roads.

SHAPIRO: That's Gerry Yandel, editor of The Virgin Islands Daily News. Through it all, he has continued publishing.

YANDEL: Actually, Ari, we only missed one day, and that was the day after Irma.

SHAPIRO: How do you do that when you don't have some of the basic necessities?

YANDEL: Well, it was tricky. We were unable to access our website servers, which are up in New York, so we weren't able to put our stuff up online. But the press is in-house, and we had press guys coming in. And we'd roll off papers and then just take them out by hand. And people were very relieved to see the newspaper and very surprised that we actually were publishing.

SHAPIRO: Tell me a story about somebody you know whose life has really changed since the storms.

YANDEL: Well, I have, actually, two sad stories. A friend of mine that I worked with here for the last seven years drowned during Hurricane Maria.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I'm so sorry.

YANDEL: And someone here that - a woman named Sha-Sheema - well, her house got just destroyed. And her last day was on Friday, and she's moved to Miami - don't know if she'll be back or when she's coming back. And a lot of people here - this is a - you know, tourism is a huge industry here, and we have a lot of hospitality workers.

And they're kind of transient anyway, and as soon as they could, everybody - all those people fled the island. Other than that, I'd say 50 to 70 percent of the people have some kind of damage to their homes.

SHAPIRO: In light of that terrible human cost, it feels almost inappropriate to talk about tourism. And yet, tourism is such an important part of the economy. Do you think tourists will be able to come back soon?

YANDEL: Well, believe it or not, Ari, Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas is supposed to dock here on St. Thomas on November 10.

SHAPIRO: And what do you think those tourists will see when they come ashore?

YANDEL: They'll probably see us still working furiously to reclaim the beaches back. As you can imagine, the beaches are devastated. The trees are gone. There's piles of sand it washed all the way up inland. So we're in the process of trying to put that back together. And then our other main tourist draw is Main Street, which is a shopping district. And those businesses are working furiously to do their build-outs, and to repair their stores and get ready.

SHAPIRO: I just can't imagine, as you're trying to put out a newspaper every day, help the island recover, clean up the beaches, deal with the personal, human tragedy of the losses that you've experienced - how are you getting through this?

YANDEL: Well, there's a thing that Governor Mapp started saying initially in his briefings, which I was skeptical about, but I've come to take it to heart, and that - he would start off each briefing by saying, today was a little bit better than yesterday. And this is a very long process, and it's very incremental so that the smallest things just provide a little bit of hope.

Like, the pressure from Irma was so intense, it blew out car windows, and at least half of the vehicles here are missing windows and have plastic bags instead. But it took me a couple weeks before I was able to finally cover up my back window on my truck. And just that little thing - the sense of relief from that, of knowing that the rain was not going to be coming into my car anymore...


YANDEL: You just got to hang on stuff like that.

SHAPIRO: Gerry Yandel, thanks so much for talking with us, and I'm sorry for your losses.

YANDEL: Thank you. And don't let people forget us. We get overshadowed by Puerto Rico.

SHAPIRO: Gerry Yandel, editor of The Virgin Islands Daily News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.