Anne Horrigan Geary: Worried about welfare of hurricane survivors

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DALTON — Meteorologically speaking, hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean is almost over. There are thousands of people ready to breathe a sigh of relief that the threat of more storms decreases by the day. If only the prognosis for recovery were so easily plotted.

It is easy to feel a sense of horror at the conditions many Caribbean peoples are enduring, but it's more a general sense than a personal one. The news cycle has moved on to more recent tragedies, but the residents of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and more are still living with real threats to their health and safety.

As much as I am united with all suffering souls in the Caribbean as a member of the human race, I am more personally connected with the hurting peoples of places I have visited. As a day tripper in many Caribbean ports, I have come to enjoy and respect the inhabitants of many islands, learning some of their culture, and enjoying their food and fellowship.

Having twice sailed into the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, I still picture the rugged buildings of the old fort at the mouth of the harbor, and the warm welcome of the business people in the shops. Once, we stopped for a cold drink after a walk through the narrow streets near the port, and struck up a conversation with the owner of the little store, who was originally from New York. She tried to convince us to relocate to her beautiful, adopted city. I keep wondering how the little business survived the hurricane, and what can the owner do to earn an income without power or supplies.

Looking around the harbor from our balcony on the ship, we noted many nearby hotels and restaurants as well as a plethora of souvenir shops. How many of the accommodations are open? How many have reservations pending? What happens to the trinket sellers when there are no tourists to buy? Do they sit in the dark every night and worry about their future?

We visited the island of St. Thomas in the American Virgin Island for the first time last winter. We took a cab into the center of Charlotte Amalie and wandered the crowded streets. We tried to find small local businesses to shop, where we could talk to the proprietors about what they had crafted. I remember a young man and his uncle who had recently opened their little shop, where we bought some beautiful items. What has happened to these men and their little business?

We had lunch at the Greengoes Caribbean Cantina. We ate local food and drank local beer, feeling right at home with the other tourists enjoying the experience. The servers were all young and friendly like the summer help on Cape Cod. Where are they living now and can they find work in restaurants that have reopened?

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has announced that its ships will begin returning to St. Thomas on Nov. 11 which will bring a welcome return of tourist dollars to businesses. But the tourists won't see all the residents who are still waiting for power and clean water supplies.

We know about one couple in particular. Their daughter in Florida keeps folks updated on her parents' well-being, and through her Facebook links I have found additional information from locals detailing their personal struggles. Mail service is only partly restored, so many supplies sent from stateside relatives are arriving sporadically — if at all.

There is still a curfew, but lines at shops are dwindling as people acclimate themselves to the "new normal". Power is not expected to be fully restored for many months. People without home generators have to depend on others to recharge their cellphones (service is still spotty) and have a warm shower or a hot meal.

The crisis is far from over for the Caribbean islanders. They are strong, but their needs are great.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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