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St. John: Ecologist Says Island Could Use a Little Rain to Support Foliage

The daily community meeting at Mongoose Junction draws a crowd. (Judi Shimel photo)
The daily community meeting at Mongoose Junction draws a crowd. (Judi Shimel photo)

It may not seem something St. John wants to hear while it’s digging out from under the wreckage of Hurricane Irma, but one departing specialist on Wednesday said the island needs some rain in the next few weeks.

Gary Ray had been on the island working as an ecologist, doing forest restoration for a private client when the hurricane hit. He was evacuated Wednesday, but before he left he said the native species appeared to have weathered the storm well.

The plant communities on the lee slope are in much better shape than those on the windward side because they didn’t get nearly as strong a wind, and therefore not as much defoliation, he explained.

A lot of trees will recover to create fruit that are critical for the survival of pigeons and doves. The scaly-faced pigeon, the big one, is critical for seed distribution of the large trees, allowing the trees to re-sprout.

“The entire forest has an intact root system … all the energy and regrowth will literally be from underground and up,” he said.

Ray said many of the tire palms, a native species known locally as broom palms, survived the storm.

But Ray had one thing to say that might seem counter-intuitive after a hurricane.

St. John residents line up for ice early Wednesday morning. (Amy Roberts photo)
St. John residents line up for ice early Wednesday morning. (Amy Roberts photo)

“It’s very important that we actually get some rain,” he said.

Rain would help the foliage survive. If there’s a drought for four or five weeks, “that could be a problem.”

“This place will look a whole lot better in a couple of months if we get some rain,” he said.

The forests “have been recovering” for hundreds and thousands of years, Ray said, adapting and changing as conditions change.

Ray said St. John’s myrtles – guava berries and bay rum trees – handled Irma’s onslaught better than some other species because they’re native.

A second wireless hot spot was opened on St. John Wednesday, near the tennis courts. Three private citizens with a technical bent created it for the community.

Darryl Wade, who is a vice president at the Virgin Islands Next Generation Network, Matt Gyuraki and James Monaghan of Computer Express created the connection to help the community get back in touch with the world.

Connection, the Cruz Bay mail center, now has a lost and found and a message board. It’s also the place where volunteers meet for to go out on two-hour clean up sessions. Those who want to help can arrive at 10:45 a.m. or 1:15 p.m.

U.S. Navy Commander Jeff Grant brought 55 sailors from the Beachmaster 2 unit of the Little Creek, Virginia. They had been prepared to go to the Gulf of Mexico to help Texas recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey. But when officials realized the size and power of Hurricane Irma, Beachmaster 2 was quickly diverted to the Caribbean.

Bryan Barnes, chief of St. John Rescue, said search teams are still going house to house in the Bordeaux area looking for survivors.

The Coral Bay shelter finally got a shipment of cots. For the six days since the storm many of the people stay ing at the shelter have slept on blankets lying on the floor or on tables.

National Guard troops arrive in Cruz Bay Friday amid a scene of storm damage. (Amy Roberts photo)
National Guard troops arrive in Cruz Bay Friday amid a scene of storm damage. (Amy Roberts photo)

A crew of 30 people from FEMA are doing an assessment of public health needs as part of the disaster survivor assistance team. They will begin working with applicants for FEMA assistance.

Dr. Joseph DeJames from the Myrah Keating Health Clinic said the staff there is “trying to focus on urgent care, emergency care, and medical evacuation.” The medical team headed up by DeJanes and Dr. Elizabeth Barot has a full compliment of doctors, nurses and medics.

“I’m pretty amazed we don’t know of any fatalities or any major trauma,” he said.

The clinic building still has lots of damage and leak. DeJanes and another staff member climbed up onto the roof and cleaned debris out. He noted that the air conditioning units are ruined. They have also ripped out soaked, moldy carpeting and are hoping to get a working generator.

Ryan West, a member of the volunteer group Love City Strong, said the group has found housing for emergency relief workers at the Grande Bay Resort and the Cruz Bay Boutique hotel.

Atlee Connor of the Department of Public Works said the department is still working to clear the main roads. If volunteers want to help, they can take care of the sides of the road, he said.

Fuel is sometimes problematic since Irma visited St. John. The Racetrack Gas Station had to stop selling gas when a transformer for its generator blew out. No electricity, no gas pump. A new part has been ordered from Puerto Rico. At E & C Gas, the booth that houses the controls to the pumps was destroyed.

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  1. The island will come back, and it will rain again, no doubt. Just an observation: you show primarily White folks at the community meeting, and primarily Black folks on line for food. Maybe that’s what’s really happening, but as someone who grew up in the VI, I have witnessed the decline in rave relations with the influx of continentals. I would encourage you to do more outreach so that the community meeting represents ALL the people, and is more representative of the island demographics.