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People have been asking me how things are in St. Thomas. I didn’t take too many photos because we were either driving to our worksite or we were working. With many of the residents present, it’s ideal to respect privacy and think about what people are going through. What I can share is that they still have a long way to go. Power is being restored – 92% of customers at present – but 9,100 customers still need to rebuild their homes before they can be reconnected. Roads are rough but passable. In some cases you have to wait on oncoming traffic to get around particularly large potholes. The New York Times wrote a great article on the power situation which includes other updates on January 9th. Here’s a bit more about my trip:

Some of the houses look okay from the outside, minus the blue FEMA tarp where the roof was. In some cases, like with this house, there was no roof and two exterior walls were missing. With rain continuing to fall over the past four months, the damage continued.

In other cases, like this school, the building looked mostly fine, but black mold was hiding in the sheetrock and behind wooden trim. Spot testing needs to be done to make sure all the mold is removed and the areas treated before rebuilding. Much of the furniture was also damaged with the presence of mold.

Another challenge is all the debris. Once things are removed, they need to be sorted and organized. Then they need to be removed by Public Works or private waste removal companies. If you have a vehicle, you can take things to dumpsters but they are very full. As you might imagine, space on the island is limited.

Speaking of space – here was my corner of base camp. I had a cot that I put my air mattress on. So much nicer than sleeping on the floor! I had my own fan after the first night, which was luxury. Best of all, I had a spot to hang up my mosquito net.

Clockwise from top left: we stayed in a church banquet hall that relies on a cistern for water, so the gray water from the sinks were used for toilet flushing. 

The dishwashing station was outside the kitchen door (wash, rinse, sanitize system going on there!). 

There were four indoor showers for 70 people. I usually opted for the outdoor, port-o-shower option which was hose-fed (cold water only).  Due to the limited amount of water, we took 90-second Navy showers. Good thing my dad trained us well on his Coast Guard ships during family weekends!!

The outside of the building (where the ladders slept).  Inside the door on the bottom floor, all the supplies and tools are stored. Each team has a little taped off square on the floor that contains all the things you will need for the day. Once the vans arrived, we loaded up and hit the road.

The inside of the second floor where we slept and had a kitchen (middle photo). We made our own breakfasts and lunches (yeah, don’t ask what I was “cooking” myself). Dinner was made by an awesome local woman – Maekiaphan, mother of 12. During the storm, she and her husband cooked and distributed more than 3,500 meals after two hurricanes hit the island. She was even featured on Good Morning America!

The last photo is everyone’s boots – left so as to not contaminate base camp.

Work in progress – chipping away sheetrock stuck between screws and framing. I know you’re not supposed to stand on top of a ladder but this was the tallest one we had. I held onto the door frame just in case!

Don’t worry, it wasn’t all work. Tomorrow, I will bring you some of the fun, friends, and sights.

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