As I write this, I am reminded of the movie "Trading Places" shown this time of year with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd... that final scene where the two have made it to the islands and Dan Akroyd is out on his boat while Eddie lounges on the beach...
"Looking Good, Billy Ray!" Shouts Akroyd from the boat.
"Feeling Good, Louis!" replies Eddie Murphy as he raises his island drink to the sun.
It isn't quite the perfect end to a movie on the Virgin Islands yet, but we are getting there...
American Airlines is expanding its service to the island of St Croix in the US Virgin Islands starting December 15th and what a help this will be! Up until now, there has only been one flight out of Miami each day so this will literally double the ability to get to the islands. What does this mean for Life In The Arena? Other than the increased ability to fly people over, nothing really as American Airlines is still limiting checked baggage to two bags and no boxes so we still need donors to start giving in order to cover shipments of goods to responders on the islands.
More than two months after the hurricanes hit the Virgin Islands, we know that Coral World has reopened, but unfortunately the losses are noticeable. The sea lions are back and already entertaining guests and tourists, but the sharks which were a huge attraction are no longer on the island as they had to be released in the immediate wake of the hurricanes due to the damage to their faux habitat’s power and pumps. The Underwater Observatory Tower remains closed due to damage and some of the grounds are still off limits.
Before Thanksgiving, the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority had restored 40 percent of the power on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John; the utility company expects the number to rise to 90 percent by Christmas. This story has not changed and power workers are still hard at with a group from Marshfield, Wisconsin just leaving for the islands yesterday!
Crews are clearing tree limbs, power lines and piles of debris from roadways, and patching up holes. Cruise ships are tying up in St. Thomas and St. Croix, and JetBlue and Delta flights are landing on a daily basis.
If you are not familiar with the islands, here’s a sign of progress… two of the three McDonalds are open in St. Thomas but service is slow according to reports. Well, that’s true here in Iowa as well, so we’re getting there.
There are still the blue tarps and the hum of generators, but tourists are returning and the islands are trying their best to become a destination once again.
Lodging is a concern. The island hotel association has reported that less than a quarter of its 1,723 rooms at 22 properties have reopened since the hurricanes. Even now, most guests are relief workers and business travelers. Two of the largest and most elegant hotels — the Ritz-Carlton and Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort — will miss at least one peak season. The projected return date for both is 2019. For now, Airbnb and VRBO could plug the hole in accommodations. An Airbnb search for the week before Christmas produced more than 75 properties.
While we are discussing lodging, we are in need of someone on the island of St. Croix to host a member of our team. This could entail simply allowing us to put a temporary shelter in a yard with access to electric and a shower and would not require necessarily moving them in. A church would be perfect. We are also looking for a church on the island to become a point of contact for a team we are creating that will be on the island through mid-May. If you know someone, have a contact or are on the island, please let us know as soon as possible.
We are still dealing with the critical infrastructure issues of medical care, responder care and supplies, but for islands that rely almost entirely on tourism dollars to survive, things are pretty encouraging going into the new week.