Vieques: A Time of Great Need

We live in the Charleston, SC area, a place affectionately known as The Lowcountry. Charleston floods all the time. It floods at high tide. It floods badly in heavy rains that come at high tide. And, of course, we flood when storms approach. So those of us who have lived here for any length of time understand the power of big storms.

But none of us, not even those who lived through Hurricane Hugo in 1989, can truly wrap our heads around what happened in the Caribbean over the last few weeks. Two category 5 Hurricanes swept through the Leeward Islands chain-sawing and stump-griding everything in their path. We've all seen the pictures. Islands like Barbuda, St. Martin and St. John devastated. Nothing left standing. Tropical green turned to January brown in a matter of hours.

We have close friends in Miami who rode out Irma. We got updates as the storm was raging and many, many updates since. It was bad, especially bad farther south in the Keys. But now they're recovering. Electricity has finally been restored. Generators put away and rush hour traffic returning. It was an uneasy interruption. Scary, for sure. Inconvenient, without doubt. But life goes on.

Several years ago a fantastic client of mine insisted we take some friends and spend a week in their house on a hill above the little seaside town of Esperanza, on the south coast of Vieques. For those who don't know, Vieques and Culebra are small islands off the east coast of Puerto Rico - sometimes called the Spanish Virgin Islands.

We had an incredible week at Lori's house. It really couldn't have been better. We loved the island with it's herds of horses just hanging out along the roads. We played on it's many and varied beaches. We swam in Mosquito Bay one night and our wet skin shone bright with millions of bioluminescent creatures. We visited the restaurants and bars of Esperanza overlooking the Malecon. One night the local boys rode up and down the main street on their horses, making a noise that you just don't hear in too many other places. It was a great trip.

On the morning of September 20th everything for the people of Vieques changed. Life as they knew it ceased. The eye of Hurricane Maria, packing 155 mile an hour winds, hit little, happy Esperanza. It tore up the Malecon. It shredded every leaf on every tree. It took the roofs off almost every house. And it killed many, many of the island's gentle horses. Looking at the first photos to make it out I did't recognize anything.

You see, Harvey in Texas was a horrible fluke storm. Irma was a Cat 4 that, fortunately for South Florida, clipped Cuba. But there was nothing to slow down Maria as it approached first Dominica, and then St. Croix, Vieques and finally Puerto Rico. More to the point, these are islands. Try recovering on an island that you can't either escape from or get assistance to. Try getting back to normal when all the jobs went the same way as the leaves. Everything shredded beyond recognition. No food. No water. No electricity. No roof, no tarp, no home.

Vieques is an island full of people who can only help themselves as quickly as we are able to get materiel to them. Grindingly slowly. It will take weeks to get over the initial trauma. Months to rebuild their immediate surroundings. And years to get back on their feet. And because it's a little island far from the shores of its "protector," the pace of recovery will be dictated by OUR sense of purpose. The utility in Miami can pre-position thousands of linemen, Vieques can not.

So please help those in need. In Barbuda. In St. Martin and Dominica. In the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Please help the islanders who make our visits memorable. And help little Vieques. If we don't who will. Visit this link to donate.

Mike Pontius