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Some Too Proud, Others Too Remote To Get Emergency Help

September 21, 1995

BORDEAUX, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) _ Some are too proud, others too remote from the federal aid offered to hurricane victims. So people in the interior of this hilly island are banding together to help themselves.

``We are a little community. But we work together,″ Clifford Benjamin said Thursday as he pumped fuel from his gasoline truck into cars lined up at his house.

``I probably would make a lot more money downtown. But in this area, the people, we stick together in a lot of ways,″ said Benjamin, 53.

His neighbors in Bordeaux, a government-built community, have opened their concrete houses to people who lost their homes when Hurricane Marilyn struck last week.

People are helping each other with housing repairs and running errands to the capital, Charlotte Amalie, a five-mile drive slowed by the twists and bends of mountain roads.

Other islanders were fending for themselves.

Emile Bernier, 59, sat on his lawn, pulling nails from a piece of wood that blew off his roof. He needed them to attach a tarpaulin over the hole.

He said some of his neighbors wouldn’t go to the relief centers for one reason: pride. ``Unless people don’t have anything, they might go and beg. But it won’t happen,″ he said.

Traffic was snail-paced in many areas of St. Thomas, an island 13 miles long and three miles wide that is home to 51,000 people.

At one point, a van became wedged beneath a utility pole dangling at an angle across a road. Two motorists hopped out of their cars and gently rocked it free.

Gov. Roy L. Schneider said the dusk-to-dawn curfew would be extended on Sunday to midday so that work crews could clear roads of remaining utility poles, cables and uprooted trees.

The island government also ordered people to remove sailboats and yachts tossed by the hurricane over the pier of the marina and across the main four-lane Waterfront road. One yacht landed up in the car park of the Windward Passage hotel. Another smashed into a storefront.

Yachters complained that there were no cranes on the island to move the boats and said they feared the government would further damage the boats by using bulldozers.

Health officials on Thursday began spraying Charlotte Amalie to kill mosquitoes breeding in stagnant pools left by the storm. They feared an outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease dengue. Growing garbage piles in St. Thomas also are breeding grounds for disease.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday increased its estimates of the scope of damage on both St. Thomas and St. John islands, but its reports have varied so greatly from day to day that they are not considered reliable.

The latest report from Washington headquarters said some ``20-30 percent of all the businesses on St. Thomas were destroyed, as were 60 percent of the homes, with the rest of the homes uninhabitable. Thirty percent of the homes on St. John were destroyed and 60 percent were roofless. St. Croix suffered much less damage.″

Coordinating military, chartered and commercial aircraft, as well as boats and barges, FEMA has succeeded in six days in bringing 1,500 emergency personnel and 1.3 million tons of goods to the Virgin Islands, the agency said.

FEMA director James Lee Witt said in St. Thomas on Thursday. that his chief concerns were food, housing, removing debris and ensuring security. Many shops and warehouses were torn open by the storm, leaving them victim to looters who cleaned out several.

FEMA planned to add two more distribution centers to the three that opened in towns on the island on Tuesday and Wednesday.

At a downtown center outside Lionel Roberts Stadium, hurricane victims on Thursday found some previously unavailable items, including bottled water, flashlights and battery-powered radios.

Plastic for roofing, the most sought-after item, ran out before noon.

Some disappointed people said they had lined up there at dawn, even though the center did not open until 10 a.m.

Witt said he hoped a shortage of trucks would end with the expected arrival of additional trucks by midnight Thursday. Massive C-17 military cargo planes that were supposed to deliver trucks on Tuesday, but were grounded for safety inspections, were flying Thursday.

Away from the roars of airplane jets and helicopters that filled the air around the airport on Thursday, only bird songs, an occasional dog bark and a crowing rooster sounded at Freedom Heights, a ravine on the northeast of the island choked with debris from the storm.

Sugar Laronde, 60, was camping out in a battered car full of his clothes.

``See where those steps are?″ he said, pointing across the ravine. ``That was my house.″

Then he laughed. Laronde had yet to seek help, depending on his neighbors for an occasional meal.

``I got my pride,″ he said.

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