August 2, 2005 – Lomin Feliciano, 67, brought her four-month-old grandson to the gate of their small, neat home in Williams Delight to show senators the mosquito bites that cover his tiny body. At first the infant was a little frightened by all the attention, but his curiosity took over and he began to smile and reach out to the strangers. "He is bitten all over," Feliciano said in rapid Spanish. She said she sprays constantly, but the stagnant water caught in the clogged gutters in front of her home breeds more mosquitoes.
Her grandson has not contracted dengue, but Feliciano explains that her daughter-in-law, Tamara Sylvstre, 28, the baby's mother, had contracted the disease and had to be hospitalized.
Feliciano was not the only resident of Williams Delight to talk to senators and their staffs on Monday. Many residents came out in the midday sun into the potholed, water-logged streets to tell senators the hazards they face every day in their neighborhood, a housing community of more than 300 homes on the western end of St. Croix.
Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville, Ronald E. Russell and representatives of Sens. Craig Barshinger, Neville James and Pedro M. Encarnacion took a walking tour of the neighborhood to see the conditions in the area for themselves.
They not only got a firsthand look at the problems in Williams Delight — they experienced them.
As legislators converged on the area around #281 Williams Delight — where on July 26, more than 50 illegally dumped tires were found by Department of Health officials — their SUV rolled into a pothole that was obscured by mud and debris. The left front tire disappeared into a hole so deep it caused the truck to tilt up on three wheels. Senators had to call for help to pull the vehicle free. (See "Dengue Mosquitoes Breeding in Dumped Tires".)
Ashel Belardo lives about five houses down from her sister, Rashel, on the same street as #281. She told senators and their representatives that her sister's four children, ages 10, 8, 6 and 2, have all contracted dengue fever. "They are always sick," Ashel said. "The children suffer from asthma and get ringworm all the time," she said.
Belardo commented on the numerous abandoned homes in the area, a condition she says has been created by the slow-moving V.I. Housing Authority. "When people move, they take so much time to fix the homes before another family can move in," Belardo said of the agency responsible for the development. "They wait until the house is almost broken down. It cost more money to fix when they do that."
At #281, a trailer piled high with old tires is parked in the driveway. Neighbors say a crew came early Monday and put the tires from the abandoned building into the trailer. Aldena Martin, acting deputy executive director of the V.I. Housing Authority, in a telephone interview Monday said the authority would be removing the tires from the area. As of 2:30 p.m., however, the trailer full of tires was still parked in the driveway.
Following the walk-though, the senators issued a press release calling on government agencies to come together and fix the community's problems. "We are sending an urgent message to DPNR, WMA, VIHA, DPW and any other agency that can help alleviate the problem facing these residents," the statement said.
The press release cited a number of problems in the area, including "illegally dumped tires, streetside guts clogged with dirt and debris and collecting stagnant water, a larger water-filled gut approximately seven feet wide and several feet deep, many abandoned houses with overgrown foliage obscuring health hazards, and a number of abandoned vehicles." The senators said the area has "severe civil engineering problems." They said, "The streets are higher than the guts, causing the water to back up and collect in the streets."
On Thursday, Sen. Neville James, chairperson of the Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee wrote a letter to Waste Management Authority Executive Director May Adams Cornwall asking her to "immediately identify a temporary storage site for used tires."
"I am convinced that the amount of illegally dumped tires on St. Croix is directly related to the rising number of reported and clinically confirmed cases of dengue fever being experienced on this island," James said.(See "Sen. James Calls for Action on Used Tire Problem".)
In a letter to government house written on Friday, Senate President Lorraine L. Berry asked Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to "expeditiously request federal assistance" to deal with the dengue fever outbreak. Berry suggested that the governor begin a "massive eradication program" and resume fogging neighborhoods. "This is of dire necessity." Berry wrote. "It bears on the health of the residents and the economic health of the [tourism-based] economy."
As of Monday evening, there has been no public response from the WMA or the governor.
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