In 5th week of recovery from Hurricane Maria, St. Croix sees slow improvement

WASHINGTON — Streets are clear of debris, grocery stores are stocked and there are no more lines for gas, but most of the island remains without power on St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Generators are a commodity here,” said Fran Scuderi, of Olney, Maryland, from the island where he owns two houses he’s working to repair. “The power is the main thing that’s missing down here. And they’re working on it — I have to give them credit for that.”

Since Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, battered the island with sustained winds of 175 mph on Sept. 19, about 17 percent of St. Croix customers have had electricity restored, according to numbers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A curfew keeps people safely off dark streets between 7 p.m. and 10:30 a.m., and Scuderi said that means most businesses close at 6:30 p.m.

“People are working, but it’s on a very scaled-back basis. And it’s hard for people — their normal jobs, their source of income, is gone,” Scuderi said. “That’s had a big effect on the locals down here. They’re pinching pennies and just trying to get day-by-day income.”

Scuderi said he carried four bags of diapers and other supplies with him from Maryland to St. Croix for people who can’t afford those items.

Watch video of the damage that remains on the island:

“This is a very tightly knit community. People take care of each other. If someone needs something and someone has it, the word gets back around,” Scuderi said.

The lack of electricity has essentially turned the island into a cash-based society: Only the largest businesses, such as hotels, have electricity to process credit cards.

Scuderi compares life with no power, no television and limited ways to get information to being in a time warp. He recalled someone asking him Wednesday whether it was true that Tom Petty had died. Petty died on Oct. 2.

Scuderi said there’s a stress factor to coping with the situation that appears to be easing gradually as things get better.

“One by one as the telephone (power) poles go up, morale goes up,” Scuderi said.

As for the power situation on St. Croix’s sister islands: FEMA reports that as of Oct. 18, 23 percent of St. Thomas customers have had electricity restored. Sections of St. John are expected to receive an initial wave of service restoration by next week, according to the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority.

“On Friday, divers will be performing assessments of [the authority]’s submarine cables to St. John, Hassel Island and Water Island, as preparations are made to restore electrical service to those areas,” the company website states.

Recommending that everyone stock emergency kits at home to help them live a few weeks without power, Scuderi said the whole experience has been a good lesson for preparedness.

“You don’t want to be one of those people in the line looking for D-cell batteries after the fact.”

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