Tim Duncan looked up the hilltop and saw obliteration.
No roofs left on the 50 or so houses on the hill. No leaves or bark left on the trees that covered the gorgeous Virgin Islands landscape.
And no people. They were all gathered by the ports or the airport, waiting in line two or three hours for some canned food.
When he looked up at the hilltop, he saw his story. He was reminded of 28 years ago when his family was waiting at a distribution center to get food for the day after Category 5 Hurricane Hugo. How they had to figure out a way to rebuild their island lives from the wreckage, and the VI took years to rebuild.
Last month, two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hit the U.S. Virgin Islands in the span of 12 days. Some estimates said 70 to 80 percent of all structures on the main three islands – Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas – suffered damage. “Hurricane Maria drowned what Irma didn’t destroy,” a New York Times headline read.
Duncan, a Saint Croix native, immediately pitched in to help his home. He organized four planes to bring in 170,000 pounds of supplies for the Virgin Islands last month. But it is nowhere near enough.
As Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico recover from hurricanes as well, Duncan said his ask is simple:
Please don’t forget the VI.
“The problem is that people start forgetting and everybody’s focus is elsewhere,” Duncan said. “I saw houses gone, roads covered in debris, trees stripped of leaves. And I saw people scrambling in survival mode, trying to find food and places to stay. People down there need your help. They need to be recognized and not forgotten during these times.”
When Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast in August, volunteers and supplies came in from all over the United States. Duncan and his BlackJack Speed Shop sent supplies to Houston, but more weather systems bringing much more devastation were forming in the Atlantic Ocean.
Irma came through and hit St. John and St. Thomas the hardest. St. Thomas was hit with wind gusts up to 185 miles per hour, becoming the most intense Atlantic hurricane to hit American soil since Katrina in 2005.
“After the first hurricane, the people of St. Croix gathered up as much as they could to send it to St. Thomas,” Duncan said. “They used up a lot of resources to help a neighbor, and then here comes a hurricane that puts them in the same situation. These people are strong, they’re resilient, they’ve dealt with disasters, but not two in a 10-day span. Now, people are scrambling.”
The winds were so strong that planes flipped over and the airports shut down for weeks. Power may not return fully until December according to news outlets. Both of the Virgin Islands’ hospitals need to be rebuilt, with a mobile hospital currently going up on the front lawn of the main building. Some schools are working toward reopening in the coming months, but others have been condemned.
“You see those houses decimated, everything mangled and twisted, that really brings you into the reality of the situation,” Duncan said. “When you’re not there, it’s not a reality. It’s not right in your face, you don’t feel it or live it, so it’s easy to forget. But people are fighting in the VI and they need your help.”
To donate, please give to the 21 US Virgin Island Relief Fund at https://www.youcaring.com/21usvirginislandrelieffund-942738
Player’s Tribune: Don’t Forget About The Islands
Spurs.com: Tim Duncan Asks You To Help The Virgin Islands