Long, Painful Recovery Seen for U.S. Island Territory
CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) _ For many residents of St. Croix, the resort island raked by Hurricane Hugo and then plundered by looters, life is still chaotic.
Three weeks after one of the century’s most destructive storms struck the U.S. Virgin Islands on its way to Puerto Rico and the Carolinas, most of St. Croix’s 56,000 inhabitants still have no electricity or telephone service. Running water is just beginning to be restored.
Thousands of houses, schools and churches are destroyed, and some beaches are fouled by sewage and fuel oil.
Health officials have raised concerns about the possibility of epidemics caused by contaminated water, a lack of refrigeration, poor sanitation and millions of mosquitoes breeding in stagnant water.
A tent hospital in Christiansted is the only one on the island admitting patients.
The looting has long since stopped, but 1,000 military police deployed by President Bush to help restore order still patrol the streets with pistols and M-16 rifles. A curfew remains in effect.
Scores of supermarkets and hardware, appliance and clothing stores stand in ruins, their shelves emptied by looters.
″We don’t have anything to eat. We don’t have any stores to go to,″ said Lillian Santos, a mother of seven children ranging in age from 10 months to 20 years, as she stood in a Red Cross food line in the eastern port town of Frederiksted.
″We need rice. We need corn flour,″ she said. ″I try not to get depressed. I just have to think things are going to get better.″
St. Croix, about 70 miles east of Puerto Rico, was by far the hardest hit of the U.S. Virgin Islands, although St. Thomas and St. John also suffered substantial damage when Hurricane Hugo hit on Sept. 17.
Three people were killed on St. Croix, where winds of up to 216 mph stripped the once lush landscape of its foliage. From the air, towns on the 84-square-mile island look as if they were bombed.
Dr. Carlton Hodgson, director of the Frederiksted Health Center, said he and 13 other doctors have treated nearly 5,000 patients for storm-related injuries such as nail punctures, broken bones and burns.
Hodgson said he was beginning to see patients with psychological problems caused by Hugo’s devastation.
A typical case, he said, was a man depressed over the loss of rare vases collected over a lifetime. ″The thought of having something to leave as a legacy is not there anymore,″ Hodgson said.
The territorial government has estimated damage to the Virgin Islands at $500 million, but Lt. Gov. Derek Hodge said he expected the figure to rise to $4 billion. Damage to the giant Hess Oil refinery in St. Croix alone was $100 million, he said.
The Bush administration has alloted $1.1 billion for hurricane relief in North Carolina and South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Hodge said he believed it would take up to two years for St. Croix to recover fully from the hurricane.
″This is going to be a long one,″ said Gerald Connolly, who is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief operation in the territory. ″I think we’ll be in the full-steam-ahead recovery program for six months. We may still be building some houses after that.″
Federal officials say 6,300 houses in St. Croix, about one-third of all homes, were heavily damaged or destroyed. Hodge said most of the homeless were staying with relatives but that 500 remained in shelters.
Tap water started flowing to St. Croix homes on Thursday, but was being rationed while repairs continued. Officials said it would take at least six months to fully restore electricity and telephones.
There is extensive damage to hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and marinas, and the outlook for tourism is bleak.
However, nine of St. Croix’s 13 hotels say they hope to reopen by the start of the winter tourist season in December. Meantime, hundreds of workers have been laid off and there is concern some businesses might never reopen.
Some businesses said they were ruined by looters, who went on a four-day spree and stole everything from food and building supplies to lawn mowers and TVs.
FBI agents are searching homes for stolen goods, and the U.S. attorney’s office is investigating allegations that members of the National Guard and the local police force were involved.