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Virgin Islanders Tally Storm Damage

September 25, 1998

CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands, (AP) _ Oskar Jones spent thousands of dollars on a state-of-the-art irrigation system only to have it destroyed this week when Hurricane Georges lashed the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Jones said he knows it’s risky to farm on the islands, which have just recovered from a summer drought, but he enjoys his work.

``Besides, with so much unemployment in the territory, what else is there to do?″ said Jones, ploughing under the stubble of his crop left in Georges’ wake.

Under clear skies Friday, the picture was much the same all over: farmers mending broken fences, burying dead animals and chopping up uprooted coconut, mango and citrus trees.

And, of course, tallying their losses from Georges’ battering.

``All my crops are gone,″ said Leon Thomas as he pointed to a strand of coconut trees stripped of branches and bent over from the storm’s 110 mph winds. His cucumbers, okra, peppers, melons and fruit trees were also wiped out.

The storm hit the territory Monday, and farmers weren’t able to start the cleanup until Wednesday. Much of the damage continued, with sheep, goats and cows let loose before the storm munching on what was left of the island’s crops.

About 15 percent of St. Croix’s 55,000 inhabitants live off agriculture or livestock, a higher portion than in the rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Virgin Islands Agriculture Commissioner Arthur Petersen said the damage was ``considerable″ and offered local and federal aid to planters who can document their losses.

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