An Update from St. John Rescue

st john rescue

We received the following message from St. John Rescue. They asked that we share it with all of you.

Good day,

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, St. John Rescue, Inc. has been overwhelmed with everyone’s support and generosity. We apologize it has taken us this long to reach out but saving lives is always our number one priority. St. John Rescue is an all volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated in 1996. Our active members live and work on St. John and are integral parts of the community. Though every member was personally affected by the storm, it has not stopped the true spirit of St. John from shining through. We are all coming together to help our
neighbors.

St. John Rescue was the first group to mobilize while the storm was still raging and have
been active responders from the onset. Immediately following Hurricane Irma, we utilized trauma kits to help those in need, and provided emergency rescue to St. John residents. This was paramount to saving lives, and the beginning of our large-scale recovery efforts with government agencies and organizations.

St. John Rescue’s first step in aiding the island was to engage and deploy the Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (DIRT) which operates as part of Help.NGO. They are an elite team of disaster relief experts with specialties in search and rescue, communications and disaster relief operations. They have been working tirelessly alongside St. John Rescue members to identify and execute the changing needs of the island during recovery. Global DIRT was on the ground in St. John immediately following the hurricane and began work right away.

Establishing a line of communication to resources off island was vital for continued recovery.St. John Rescue with DIRT brought the first non-private satellite phones to St. John. This allowed teams off island to process and send information about missing persons, coordinate supply chains and efficiently manage resources.

The search and rescue efforts of St. John Rescue with Global DIRT have helped hundreds of people on St. John. We have conducted door to door checks while prioritizing vulnerable patients,medical necessities, elderly and children. We followed leads from calls, texts and emails off island, as well as in person leads from fellow island residents. We liaised with FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Team which increased the speed and efficiency of search and rescue efforts. St. John Rescue with Global DIRT has also been clearing brush and debris as needed to allow access to remote residences.

St. John can be challenging to navigate under normal conditions, due to its island terrain and hard to reach areas. Because of our local knowledge and Global DIRT’s experience in disaster management, we are able to help government agencies navigate the unique terrain and layout of the island and to assist in damage assessment. This helped us best convey the needs of the island to the government agencies.

St. John Rescue and Global DIRT, with support from GATR and Cisco, worked together to
provide WiFi. Cisco and GATR provides portable hotspots and VSAT Communications (high speed WiFi via satellite). The first GATR was deployed at the Myrah Keating Clinic. Shortly after, St. John Rescue and Global DIRT were able to acquire two more VSAT GATRs for additional wifi hotspots.

Our goal following Maria is to bring high speed wireless to Coral Bay and the Pharmacy on St. John. This will allow the pharmacy to link with their parent pharmacy on St. Thomas. Until this occurs there is no way to access prescriptions or insurance information. Residents currently have to pay full price in cash for their life sustaining prescriptions. When this is in place it will drastically reduce the out of pocket cost.

During relief efforts St. John Rescue has continued our focus on health and wellness. We
have been helping transport patients to and from the clinic. We have acted as patient advocates by helping to get medications and much needed supplies to the island. We have been assisting with medical evacuations. We have also been delivering food and water to those with limited mobility.

One of our members is a retired police officer and has filled in as security at the Myrah Keating Clinic. St. John rescue has four vehicles, all of which made it through the storm mostly undamaged. Our ambulance is being used by the Coral Bay firehouse as a stationary clinic for Coral Bay’s firefighters, paramedics and Rescue members.

Most government agencies have left the island for safer shelters ahead of Hurricane Maria, but our members and the members of Global DIRT remain on island as essential personnel in the face of the next storm. The government agencies will be back and we will be here to meet them.

*Post Maria Update* Roads have been cleared again between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay. Wifi equipment that was taken down before Maria has been restored to the Myrah Keating Clinic. The wifi system should be up and running at the Coral Bay Community Council Office as long as the generator is running.

St. John Rescue – On call for life.

Thursday, Sept. 21 Update from Celia

“Paradise is not lost!” Communications are limited, as expected, and teams are in the process of making an assessment of damage to the island’s infrastructure. Intermittent calls and internet exchanges are coming through with reports of wind and continuous rain, but no reports of serious injuries. Word this morning was an island wide full day curfew while military and first responders clear the roads and ensure the security of residents, power lines, structures and allow teams that had been deployed to return and set up for ongoing recovery efforts and supply distribution. Residents were told to get several days of provisions prior to Maria in anticipation of this; water and MRE’s were handed out in quantities that would enable residents to stay put for several days.
When curfews are lifted, people will be able to find cell reception (which is now spotty due to rains) and various Wi-Fi hotspots, including one at the Port Authority parking lot (thanks to Viya) and one at Ronnie’s, DMV and others coming up thanks to the work of VINGN, Jason and Matt. Coral Bay was connected with help from the Navy in between Irma and Maria; and Sharon is still getting messages out with requests that include the need for plastic bins for residents to protect what they were able to salvage from the continuing rains.
The Department of Tourism continues to encourage travelers to postpone trips to the islands at this time as it further evaluates the damage caused by the hurricanes and coordinates ongoing evacuation efforts. Last report we could find from the VI Port Authority was on the 17th; we will stay connected to the Government House, Dept of Tourism stay and other information sources and share updates: For flight information in and out of the territory here are the contact numbers for airports and airlines serving USVI http://www.usviupdate.com/airportairline-phone-numbers
“We continue to work with our federal partners and our friends across the mainland and around the world, to clean up and reconstruct the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands. Always remember, we are strong and we are resilient. We will provide further updates as communications are fully restored.” said Gov. Mapp in last night’s update, which also directed us to the President’s official Disaster Declaration and an announcement that said he will continue to direct all necessary Federal resources to protect and support the people of the United States territories affected by these storms. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repair, low cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of this disaster.
DISASTER ASSISTANCE: Residents are encouraged to apply for Individual Assistance (IA) using website www.DisasterAssistance.gov. The process has been tested and is efficient. The telephone number to apply for IA is 1-800-621-3362. The Disaster Assistance Improvement Program’s (DAIP) mission is to provide disaster survivors with information, support, services, and a means to access, apply for and track the status of disaster assistance through joint data-sharing efforts between federal, tribal, state, local, and private sector partners. They also provide information about transitional sheltering assistance program and direct volunteers to the NVOAD site to affiliate with an organization planning a mission to the VI. Disaster Assistance Fact Sheet (PDF, 2 MB) offers help finding other disaster news, resources, and federal assistance. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides low-interest disaster loans to help small businesses and homeowners recover from declared disasters.
NOTICE TO VOLUNTEERS: Please know that many aspects of this recovery will take weeks, months and even years ….and we WILL need you. Register online at https://voad.communityos.org/volunteer-registration-usvi-ir… You will be contacted once public officials and disaster relief organizations have had an opportunity to assess the damage and identify what the specific unmet needs are.
The true spirit of St. John continues to emerge from the wreckage, and the St. John Community Foundation and others are taking specific action now to put into place the resources to allow effective short and long term recovery efforts. Thank you for helping us make that happen…our community is strong! We did survive and WILL rebuild! Support coming in now will help us revive and rebuild in what is going to be a long road ahead.
To make a donation to the Foundation for St. John IRMA-MARIA relief efforts (PayPal is waiving all fees) go to http://thestjohnfoundation.org/donate
Sincerely yours in service – Celia

Sept. 20th Update from Celia

We just received the following email from Celia, the direct of the St. John Community Foundation:

“Many Islands. One Love” A few short and intermittent Satellite phone calls and posts have come in this morning after Maria passed south of St. John and made landfall in Puerto Rico at 6:15 this morning. The 11:11 AM VITEMA Alert reported steady strong winds up to from 35 with gusts up to 50 mph for the next few hours in STT/STJ. As expected there was, and continues to be, showers and scattered thunderstorms with flooding in guts and low lying areas. Storm surge reportedly left most of the barges on STJ inoperable. Residents are asked to stay inside while the 1st responders clear the roads and assist where needed. Supplies were topped off before Maria, military and emergency responders are being redeployed, and communications are expected to resume in a slow but progressive manner. More news as connectivity improves.

We are getting many generous offers from people who want to come to the island to help in the recovery efforts. However, right now the few accommodations left intact are prioritized for displaced residents and federal disaster responders, who are also priority recipients of limited supplies of food, water, gasoline, etc. Please know that many aspects of this recovery will take weeks, months and even years ….and we WILL need you. Register online here. You will be contacted once public officials and disaster relief organizations have had an opportunity to assess the damage and identify what the specific unmet needs are.

Persons interested in helping Hurricane Irma/Maria disaster response in St. John can best support the relief effort by making a cash donation instead of sending donated goods and services at this point in time. Cash donations to voluntary disaster relief organizations enables them to purchase exactly what is most needed – http://thestjohnfoundation.org/donate – whereas donated items require voluntary agencies to spend money and considerable time for sorting, inventorying, warehousing, and distribution of smaller shipments. We will get to the point of being able to do this for donations in the coming weeks, and continue to get and appreciate bulk containers of building materials and non-perishables.

The amazing St. Johnians who have self-organized and taken it upon themselves to help each other continue to be nothing less than awe-inspiring! We are creating an inventory to share with the stateside Adopt-A-Family program for St. John families and will share details as it comes together; this kind of support will be needed for months and we would eventually like to hook you up directly with these families so you can maintain a more long-term connection with them. Until we are able to ensure efficient mail delivery, and communications are improved, we gratefully rely on federal responders and bulk deliveries of supplies from private entities to sustain immediate needs.

We will be back in response mode for the next several days, while at the same time continue to focus on long term recovery with experienced partners who have bounced back themselves after similar disasters. Support coming in now will help us revive and rebuild in what is going to be a long road ahead.

To make a donation to the Foundation for St. John IRMA-MARIA relief efforts (PayPal is waiving all fees) go to http://thestjohnfoundation.org/donate

Wednesday, September 20th

10:45 a.m. – Like all of you, we are still waiting. We have heard from a handful of friends on island thus far. Some in Cruz Bay and some near Coral Bay. We’ve been told that there was a lot of rain and flooding. The storm is still over St. John; the eye wall is currently over Puerto Rico. As we learn more, we will share it with all of you.

All of the antennas that were fixed post-Irma were taken down yesterday and secured; therefore communication will be limited again. Once the storm passes and it is safe to reinstall this equipment, wifi should be working once again in parts of the island.

We have received countless emails about volunteering. Celia Kalousek is the director of the St. John Community Foundation. She posted the following on her Facebook page in response to an inquiry about volunteer offerings:

“Bless you, and yes, help will be needed for weeks, months, even years…register with Red Cross and/or on the NVOAD site (national volunteer organizations active in disaster) and when the island can accommodate volunteers, we will reach out!”

Please click here to register with the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. This link is specifically for those of you who wish to volunteer in the US Virgin Islands.

Thank you all for your continued love and support. #stjohnstrong

Tuesday, Sept. 19th Update from Celia

Latest update from Celia, the director of the St. John Community Foundation:

“A humbling yet inspiring time…” Maria is now bringing rain and dangerous winds from the opposite direction this time. St. John will be locked up tight by 6pm to ride out the storm. Supplies had been topped off and people received several days worth to hold them while sheltered for this storm, while those who were in a position to buy groceries have been able to do so. Local law enforcement complimented by Military and Urban Rescue teams, who are sheltered in place on St. John, will be there to respond immediately and will get support from those deployments who will return to St. John after the storm passes.

Community meetings this morning simply stressed that residents should NOT stay in their home if it’s roof or windows have been  damaged (go to a shelter or neighbor’s before 6pm) and to stay INSIDE as debris already on the ground will become mortally dangerous. Expect roads to get washed out, more trees and power lines blown down with the winds coming from another direction, and be ready for roofs and walls that made it through IRMA to be compromised.

Most power and internet is to be cut at noon to protect the equipment, so expect limited communications until after Maria passes; it will resume in stages.

Gifft Hill School is now being called the “private school for public use” and will open for currently enrolled students 9/25 at 9am. On the 25th at noon, they will start interviewing  families who want to send their children there. Money should not be a consideration, just a willingness to learn and a desire for continuing education. They will enroll students until they are at capacity, and then figure the rest out. More details to come on how to help them continue cultivating strong minds and caring hearts. We will be supporting St. John School of the Arts, Parks and Rec and other’s’ efforts to ensure the youth are engaged in the aftermath of these storms. We are joining forces with a stateside Adopt-A-Family program for St. John families and will share details as it comes together.

Much gratitude for the amazing support from St. Criox during IRMA, we will pray for our sister island who is likely to get the brunt of MARIA and support our Crucian family in anyway possible. The outpouring of stateside assistance, and the resilient St. Johnians who have self organized to help take care of each other, continue to be  nothing less than action packed and awe-inspiring!

We will be back in response mode for the next several days, while at the same time continue to focus on long term recovery with experienced partners who have bounced back themselves after similar disasters. Support coming in now will help us revive and rebuild in what is going to be a long road ahead. To make a donation to the Foundation for St. John IRMA relief efforts (PayPal is waiving all fees) go to  http://thestjohnfoundation.org/donate

Meet Ben.

bens pic

Ben, top right, is pictured alongside a group of volunteers who live on or previously lived on St. John.

Hurricane Maria became a category 5 storm Monday night. The Virgin Islands is currently in its path. It’s hard to put into words how those of us who call St. John home are currently feeling. What I do know is that we have to keep the faith. We need to continue having hope. So today I’d like to introduce you to one of my very best friends – Ben Steed. Ben is the owner of Born to Rhumb charters. In the days following Irma, Ben worked tirelessly, along with a group of current and previous St. John residents, to secure much needed supplies and provide relief for the United States Virgin Islands. Ben sent me the following email Sunday night:

I’m Ben Steed and my wife Jen and I moved to St John after I completed 9 years of active duty service in the U.S. Marines as an MV-22 pilot.  An opportunity to own a small business came up and with a dream for a brighter future and a love for St John, so we took the plunge.  When Irma hit, we were in Oahu, Hawaii visiting friends since this is our “off season” in the USVI.  I hated what I was seeing unfold during Irma and made some calls to friends to see what we could do to help our friends in need.  My friends Jesse Vann, Pat Connolly, Matt Atkinson and I immediately started a Facebook page called “St John Irma Relief” and began organizing an effort that today is more massive than I ever thought would be, now rebranded as Virgin Islands Relief.  We hit the ground running in mustering up volunteers to go down and help with search and rescue efforts, collecting supplies and figuring out how we could get aid to St John.  I spent 10 hours a day for the next 4 days, mainly focused on inserting a highly technical search and rescue team (Global DIRT) onto St John with financial assistance from St John Rescue.  Also during that time, we coordinated evacuation boats from Puerto Rico and St Croix that would bring hurricane battered people from St John to those islands.  The heroism displayed by the boat captains and coordinators on the ground in those locations has been unreal- those individuals are true heroes

The next phase was spent in collecting much needed supplies for those on island.  We reached out via social media to try and get as many supplies as we could for St John.  We decided to stage out of Philadelphia as a collection point and command center to help in organizing our efforts.  Over the next couple of days, we all met at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport where donations started coming in by the thousands. With a volunteer force, we processed well over 200,000 lbs of donated supplies that were sent via Amazon and local donations.  We initially aimed to send privately donated aircraft down with supplies for immediate relief, but then ran into issues finding and funding such aircraft. The majority have gone out for ocean freight to the USVI.  We are now focused on the rebuild aspect of our mission, that will prove to be the most costly and lengthy process, but is needed to restore what once was a paradise for everyone to fall in love with. From immediate search and rescue coordination to evacuation planning and coordination to our supply drive in Philadelphia, we have worked nonstop for the last 10 days; for our island, for our friends and for our home!  Please visit us at www.virginislandsrelief.org and @virginislandsrelief on Facebook.

#stjohnstrong