St. Thomas Braces For 'Another Long 24-Hour Period' As Hurricane Maria Approaches
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Maria is this second maximum-strength hurricane to cut through the Caribbean this month, and it's heading towards American territory - Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those are places that are still deep in recovery mode from Hurricane Irma which hit just two weeks ago.
Jeff Neevel lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Thomas. He's a pastor and says his church is poised to help if Maria does hit the island tomorrow morning. When I spoke with him a little earlier, he was at home under a curfew order, and he told us about the scene outside his front door.
JEFF NEEVEL: We're just starting to get bands of rain coming through, and the wind is picking up. Although, right now there's a bit of a calm, so it will be calm and then windy for a while. And you know, I'm looking at - my road is completely lined with piles of rubbish and broken limbs and fallen down trees, and none of that got cleaned up in the past 10 days.
CHANG: That was from Hurricane Irma.
CHANG: So what condition is the island in right now overall? Is the way the front of your home - does it look like that across the island?
NEEVEL: Pretty much. There's still a lot of downed telephone poles and wires and piles of rubbish everywhere. And there's so much of it. They're not going to get it all. And you know, we all wonder how that's going to affect us this time around. It's a little bit more treacherous.
CHANG: Are you quite worried that because there's so much debris still left from Irma, that's really going to complicate the island's ability to prepare for Maria?
NEEVEL: Yeah. It has 'cause it's slowed down everything. You know, roads are blocked, and you know, we've been sitting in traffic a lot. When they lift the curfew and, you know, you need to go out and get things or get things done, everybody's doing that. And so the roads get clogged, and a lot of the roads are only passable, you know, with one lane. So it's been very unproductive in that way.
But we got an amazing amount of work done, I would say. It's just a challenge - a larger challenge. It's not Irma recovery now. It's Irma and Maria recovery. And it's going to be maybe twice as long because - and I feel for the people who have lost their homes and their roofs and, you know - 'cause they're not going to be protected from this storm. And it's going to be another long 24-hour period. And, you know, none of us really know what we're going to find on the other side of this.
CHANG: You've been on St. Thomas for 11 years now, I understand?
CHANG: Have you ever seen anything like this year's hurricane season?
NEEVEL: No (laughter). No, I mean, there hasn't been a major hurricane since Marilyn. And that was my first visit to the island.
CHANG: And what year was Marilyn?
NEEVEL: Yeah. So when I flew in, you know, shortly after that storm just to come and do religious work here just for a week, I - you know, I was struck by the devastation, the blue roofs. There were tarps on them. It seemed like every house had a blue tarp on it. So between then and now, the island made a pretty good recovery. It's a gorgeous island. And it will. It will after this one, too. And the people will because they're strong. And these storms bring out the best in a lot of people. And we're pulling together, and we're loving our neighbors, like we should, and making sure everybody's cared for and meeting new friends and, you know, putting aside differences that we had before that, in the big picture, don't really matter. So I'm thankful for all those lessons that are being relearned.
CHANG: Yeah. Well, we wish you the best of luck. That was Pastor Jeff Neevel. He lives on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria is expected to hit the U.S. Virgin Islands tomorrow morning. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
NEEVEL: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
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