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Maria Caused More Destruction in the USVI and Increased the Number of Homeless People

By Shirley L. Smith     Updated with Videos

Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands are desperately trying to hold on after getting pounded Tuesday night for the second time in about two weeks with a Category 5 hurricane that caused widespread destruction, flooding and mudslides.  The hurricane also shattered the lives of more Virgin Islanders who were left homeless, and it destroyed the only remaining hospital in the U.S. Territory.

“There are about 600 plus folks in shelters throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Gov. Kenneth Mapp in a news conference on Thursday.

The district of St. Thomas and St. John, which includes Water Island, was devastated by Hurricane Irma which struck the territory on Sept. 6 with 185 mph winds.  St. Croix, the largest of the four islands, sustained minimal damages from Irma so it has served as the governor’s main base for the recovery operation, but St. Croix bore the brunt of Hurricane Maria’s 176 mph winds when Maria ripped through the Virgin Islands late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning.

“The western end of the island really took a horrible beating, and even if you were in the southwestern part of the island, you got beaten even more,” Mapp said. “The eastern part of the island got damages and people lost roofs, but not in comparison to what I saw on the western end of the island.

“I went into communities where people lost everything, wondering where they are going to get their next meal,” Mapp said.

The power distribution system on St. Croix was badly damaged, but the governor said it is too early to know the extent of the damage.

The power and water distribution system in the St. Thomas – St. John District were also severely damaged by Hurricane Irma. About 90 percent of residents on St. Thomas have not had electricity for 17 days, and about 50 percent of residents in St. John are still without power, Mapp said, adding that it will be months before power can be restored to some areas.

The governor surveyed the damage on St. Croix from the air Thursday, and he said based on his observations, several schools on St. Croix were also damaged and one was destroyed.

“The Juan Luis Hospital is breached. There is water everywhere. The roof is pretty much destroyed,” he said.  Mapp informed residents that the patients from Juan Luis will be evacuated today and transported to health facilities in South Carolina.

The destruction of the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center, the only hospital on St. Croix, is a major blow to the territory’s crippled health-care system, because Hurricane Irma destroyed the Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas, which is the only hospital in the St. Thomas – St. John District. This leaves the Virgin Islands with no hospital to care for its residents. The territory has a population of about 106,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

After Hurricane Irma, patients from Schneider were evacuated to the St. Croix hospital and different medical facilities in Puerto Rico, but Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic destruction in Puerto Rico as well.

Health officials say that the only part of the Schneider hospital that is functional is the emergency room, which has remained open since Irma. A temporary mobile-tent hospital was erected in the front parking lot of the Schneider hospital, but the facility had to be dismantled shortly after it was erected due to Hurricane Maria. The tents are just a temporary solution until a stronger structure can be constructed in the rare of the hospital, Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said.

The condition of the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix is still being assessed, but Mapp said the runway has been cleared. Mapp did not give any information about the status of the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas.

Lynda Rey, a native of St. Croix, said she is thankful that she and her family survived the hurricane, and that her home, located in Estate Tipperary, only had minor damage. “I have friends that don’t have their roofs,” Rey said.

A terrified Rey, rode out the hurricane with her two children in a shelter in Christiansted.  Her husband is in Anguilla with relatives who lost their homes when Hurricane Irma hit that island.

Prior to the hurricane, Rey made an impassioned plea on Facebook asking residents to go to a shelter if their house was not secure. “We survived Hugo,” she said with tears in her eyes. “It was horrible, and this is what is etched in my soul. The hunger, the heat, the not being able to provide for your children them in a timely manner.”

Rey said Thursday: “For Hugo, my mother and my pregnant cousin were under a mattress because everything had gone. The windows and roof had gone. They were just in a shell under a mattress.”  Rey’s mother’s house was spared this time too.

“It’s going to be a long road for recovery,” Mapp told residents. However, he said,
“The worst is finally behind us. So now it’s time to march on and to build a better community, a better territory, and to make that happen, I need your cooperation.”

But, for some residents, especially those who were traumatized by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, the catastrophic destruction they have experienced and witnessed over the past two weeks is too much for them to bear.  Several residents have fled the islands on mercy mission flights, and the governor said that there are about 500 residents on a waiting list to leave the territory.

The governor’s leadership team is working with airline and cruise line partners, including the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, to coordinate more humanitarian or mercy missions to evacuate residents, primarily those with medical conditions or disabilities, said Samuel Topp, the governor’s spokesperson, in a news release Thursday.

Although the St. Thomas – St. John District did not experience any hurricane-force winds when Hurricane Maria swept through the Virgin Islands, the district had a tropical storm that caused torrential rain and an ocean surge of 6 to 9 ft., resulting in massive flooding in the downtown area of St. Thomas and mudslides throughout the islands’ mountainous terrains.

“After Hurricane Marilyn, large rocks were placed in the sea in the Waterfront area along Long Bay Road [in St. Thomas] as a barrier to prevent the water from beating against the bulkhead, but Maria washed these rocks out of the sea onto the highway,” said Emmet Petersen, a resident of St. Thomas. “Once the flood water subsided, the rocks obstructed the normal flow of traffic which made it difficult for emergency vehicles to pass through.”

The flooding and mudslides compounded the devastation for people living in the St. Thomas – St. John District, many of whom lost their homes and are either living in a shelter, with family and friends or in their damaged homes with roofs covered by tarpaulins to prevent leaks.

“All the people who put tarpaulins on their houses got them torn off by Maria,” Petersen said.

Weather forecasters expect the rain to continue in the St. Thomas – St. John District into next week. This will make traversing the roads in these islands even more dangerous, because there is still a lot of debris on the roadways from Hurricane Irma that was not cleaned up before the storm.

Both Hurricane Irma and Maria knocked down phone lines and cell phone towers so it is difficult to communicate with people on all of the islands. However, some residents have been able to use their cell phones in certain areas.

Amid the destruction on St. Croix, Mapp said some people seized the opportunity to loot damaged homes and businesses. Mapp cautioned looters that they would be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.”

“When I came out of the shelter, I looked down the street, and saw people running down the street with TVs,” Rey said. Though that was upsetting, she said she also saw people in the community working together to cut trees to help clear the roadways.

Mapp also warned business owners who violate the curfew that their business licenses will be revoked.

Despite the destruction, Rey believes that St. Croix was better prepared for Hurricane Maria. “We went through Hurricane Hugo and Marilyn, and why we got so destroyed in Hurricane Hugo is because we didn’t know better. Our homes weren’t being built correctly. That was over 20 years ago, but we were ready for Maria,” Rey said.

“Some people lost homes, but not as much as in Hugo. The people built their homes a lot better and stronger,” she said.

The governor modified the curfew in the St. Thomas – St. John District. The new curfew is from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. the following day. The 24-hour curfew in St. Croix has been suspended for today only from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. to give residents the opportunity to get supplies and re-fuel their vehicles.

Mapp urged residents to abide by the strictly enforced curfew, because it is necessary for their safety and the safety of work crews. “Stay off the road. Let the crews do what they need to do, so you can get back out into the community,” Mapp said.

Mapp announced the opening of four distribution centers on St. Croix today. They are located at: the Cotton Valley Fire Station, Juanita Gardine Elementary School, Alexander Henderson Elementary School and the St. Croix Educational Complex. For a list of distribution centers on St. Thomas and St. John, go to  https://shirleysmithblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/news-alert-more-distribution-centers-open-in-usvi-to-serve-hurricane-victims/

People interested in contributing directly to the Virgin Islands’ government recovery effort, can donate at http://www.usvirecovery.org.

** Please note: While I usually post my opinions on the news in this section.  This article is not an op-ed. 

Related Link and Videos:

MSNBC Interview with U.S. Virgin Islands’ Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett: http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/watch/100-of-puerto-rico-without-power-after-maria-1051221059889

CNN Story:




Anxious Residents in the U.S. Virgin Islands Brace for Another Category 5 Hurricane

By Shirley L. Smith  Updated at 11:30 p.m.

Residents in the U.S. Virgin Islands, already devastated by Hurricane Irma which struck the islands on Sept. 6 causing catastrophic destruction in the district of St. Thomas and St. John, are now bracing for another Category 5 hurricane that is expected to drop more than 20 inches of rain on the battered islands starting Tuesday and continuing into next week.

The National Hurricane Center upgraded Hurricane Maria to a Category 5 hurricane late Monday night with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph.  A hurricane warning has been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, which also suffered catastrophic damages from Hurricane Irma, and Puerto Rico.

“We have ceased our recovery operations, and now we are in protective and shelter mode,” said U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp in a news conference Sunday upon hearing about the impending hurricane.

“Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous hurricane while it approaches the
Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” the National Hurricane Center reported late Monday. “Rainfall on all of these islands could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.”

As of Monday night, forecasters predicted that Hurricane Maria would drop 10 to 15 inches of rain in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and 20 inches in some isolated areas.

“Maria is estimated to reach the U.S. Virgin Islands between Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning,” Mapp said in a statement Monday.  St. Croix, which received minimal damage from Hurricane Irma, is expected to bear the brunt of Hurricane Maria  with winds estimated from 90 mph to 145 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, but this is subject to change.

If the hurricane stays on its current track, Mapp said, St. Croix will be in the northern quadrant of the hurricane.  Mapp explained that, “the northern quadrant of any hurricane is its most dangerous. It carries the widest slosh of winds, the most rain and that’s where it strengthens. That’s the powerful part of the storm, outside of the wall of the eye, and if it is south of us, then it puts us in the northern quadrant.”

Mapp told residents to keep the faith, and continue to pray, but make wise decisions because the hurricane will bring strong winds and lots of rain.  He implored residents to heed the warnings, and prepare and seek shelter in a secure place. “Even after the passage of Hurricane Maria, heavy rainfall is forecast to continue in the territory through the weekend and into next week,” Mapp said.

When Hurricane Irma ripped through the U.S. territory less than two weeks ago with Category 5 winds, though St. Croix was largely spared, Irma left the district of St. Thomas and St. John, which includes Water Island, in shambles. Many residents in the district are now homeless and living with family and friends or in shelters, and some residents are living in their homes with badly damaged roofs that are covered with tarpaulins.

Although electricity and the portable water system have been restored to some areas on St. Thomas, most residents in the district have been without power and water for more than 12 days, and the governor said power may not be restored in certain areas for months. Those who have cisterns have been fetching water from their cisterns to bathe. The landline telephone system is also down. However, residents with cell phones have been able to make calls in different areas of the islands, but communication is sparse.

“The place is in bad shape. Just hoping God gives us mercy with Hurricane Maria,” said a St. Croix resident who traveled to St. Thomas on an inter-island ferry on Friday to check on her father and other family members.  She did not want to be identified.

“St. Thomas and St. John [are] not expected to experience hurricane force winds, but [they] are expected to experience tropical force winds. Given the current condition of the islands of St. Thomas and St John that’s still not good,” Mapp said.

The governor ordered the mandatory evacuation of the Tutu High Rise public housing complex, which is uninhabitable due to major damages from Hurricane Irma. About 200 individuals reside in the complex, and those who did not have family or friends to go to were evacuated by the National Guard to the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School shelter Monday. The National Guard barricaded the residents’ apartments to protect whatever property they have left.

The governor apologized to the Tutu High Rise residents for actions taken by the Virgin Island Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Graham during the evacuation process. “The executive director of the Virgin Island Housing Authority, thought it was an appropriate time to go there and serve a couple of the tenants with eviction notices, and we had to put an immediate halt to that. First of all, that is very insensitive at a time like this. The buildings there are all broken apart,” Mapp said.

Mapp urged all residents to leave their damaged homes and either go to a shelter or a more secure place. “If your home is damaged, if your roof is damaged, if your windows were blown in, do not ride the storm out in your home,” Mapp said.

“I do not want to seem insensitive, but I want to make my point. If you believe that you are going to stay in the damaged buildings that have no walls and windows and shelter through a hurricane, we are asking you to get a black or brown or some high colored magic marker and write your social security number on your body,” Mapp said. “You cannot stay in those facilities. You will not survive. I am not trying to scare anyone. I am not trying to be insensitive. I want you to make the right decisions.”

Mapp cautioned residents not to wait too late to leave their damaged homes, because at a certain point, first responders will be recalled, and individuals who choose to stay in their homes will be on their own until the hurricane passes, and it is safe for the first responders to go back out.

Government officials also urged residents not to traverse the roads if they are flooded. “Most people die in hurricanes because of water not so much wind, so I am asking you please to stay off of the road,” said Mona Barnes, director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), at Sunday’s news conference.

The 31 residents living in the Eldra Schulterbrandt mental health facility on St. Thomas were also relocated to a safe facility Monday, Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said.

“The Schneider Regional Medical Center will only have in operation its emergency room,” Mapp said. “If anyone needs to be admitted or [is] injured. We are going to use the emergency room as a holding pattern until we can have access to aircraft, and then we are going to immediately transfer you off-island to a health facility.” The rest of the hospital was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

Some of the military who came to the territory to assist with recovery efforts will remain on the island to brave the storm with Virgin Islanders. “The U.S. Army medical support company and the Air Force ground surgical team will shelter in place, and they will be available for service,” said William Vogel, the federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The curfew in the St. Thomas – St. John District, which has been in place since Sept. 6, was modified on Sunday and Monday to give residents more time to stock up on supplies, but the governor reinstituted a territory-wide curfew.  The curfew will go into effect on  Tuesday at 10 a.m. until further notice.

The territory’s seaports will be closed at 8 a.m. Tuesday, and Mapp said the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) will shut off St. Croix’s power supply system around 2 p.m. Tuesday as a safety precaution. 

Hurricane Irma left a lot of debris on the roadways in the St. Thomas – St. John District that was in the process of being cleaned up when news of Hurricane Maria surfaced. So, some roads are still impassable, and Hurricane Maria will make traversing these roads worse.  In anticipation of this, Mapp told residents to make sure they have enough provisions to sustain their families for up to four days in case they cannot get out. For a list of distribution centers go to https://shirleysmithblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/news-alert-more-distribution-centers-open-in-usvi-to-serve-hurricane-victims/

“You need emergency supplies for sheltering in place, but you also need a bag prepared in case you need to evacuate,” Davis said.

Residents who go to a shelter or have to evacuate were advised to walk with their medications; a list of their medications, dosage and treatment information; a copy of their prescriptions; their government ID and/or passport; and their debit and/or ATM cards. Those with wheelchairs, should know the size and weight of their wheelchair in case they have to be transported, Davis said.

Davis advised residents to also make sure they have a week’s supply of medication and any medical supplies they need. Residents who receive health care services at home, should also make arrangements with their health care service provider, she said.

The governor also appealed to residents to assist senior citizens and others in need of assistance with securing shelter and obtaining food and supplies.

Several airlines conducted free mercy missions in St. Thomas Monday to evacuate residents. “We have about 500 people on a waiting list for a mercy mission on St. Thomas and St. John,” Mapp said. The Department of Tourism is coordinating the missions, and the governor promised that his team would work with other residents who want to  leave the territory.

“The airline is only going to take you to its first stop, which is its hub. You don’t have to pay for that, but when you land in that hub, you have to make arrangements to fly to your family or your friends or wherever else you are staying,” Mapp said.

The government released the following list of shelters:

St. Croix:

Herbert Grigg Home
Canegata Ballpark
St. Croix Educational Complex
Special Needs Shelter Only – Charles Howard Medical Complex

St. Thomas

Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School
Lockhart Elementary School (Filled to capacity.)
Knud Hansen Complex
Special Needs Shelter Only – The Community Health Clinic at the Schneider hospital

St. John:

Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School
Bethany Moravian Church
* Special Needs Shelter

* Although the Schneider Regional Medical Center was virtually destroyed, a government official said Monday that the Community Health Clinic inside of the hospital has been prepared to be used as a temporary shelter.  There is no special needs shelter on St. John, but Davis said residents with special needs can seek refuge at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center.

** Please note: While I usually post my opinions on the news in this section.  This article is not an op-ed.

Related Videos:

Tutu High Rise Complex on St. Thomas. Video taken by the Virgin Islands Consortium.


U.S. Virgin Islands’ Medical System Crippled by Hurricane Irma, but Still Functioning

Shirley L. Smith  Updated 9:53 p.m. (EST)

Hurricane Irma may have crippled the medical system in the St. Thomas – St. John District of the U.S. Virgin Islands when it destroyed the Schneider Regional Medical Center, the only hospital in the district, but the system is still functioning, according to Virgin Islands Health Commissioner Michelle Davis.

Hospital officials had to evacuate all of the patients from Schneider after Hurricane Irma ripped through the U.S. territory on Sept. 6. Although the hospital is irreparable, Davis said the hospital’s emergency room is still operational, and the environment is conducive enough to provide essential care services. The emergency room is located on the first floor of the hospital.

To better address the needs of residents on St. Thomas, St. John and Water island, a temporary mobile-tent medical facility was erected on St. Thomas a few days ago in the parking lot in front of the Schneider hospital. The facility opened Saturday morning. However, by Saturday afternoon, government officials found themselves bracing for more inclement weather from Tropical Storm Maria, and as a precautionary measure, Gov. Kenneth Mapp announced in a news conference that the tents would have to be dismantled until the threat of the pending storm passes.

“You can perform almost all services even surgery [in the mobile-tents]” Davis said.

The mobile tent is just a temporary solution. The Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), a group of medical professionals who are trained to provide rapid-response after a natural disaster or terrorist attack, is working on erecting a stronger structure in the rear of the hospital that will be able to provide long-term care until a new hospital is constructed, Davis explained. This long-term facility will have the capacity to care for up to 250 patients, she said.

The government has not done a cost estimate of the damages to the hospital or any of its structures yet. Currently, disaster recovery efforts are focused on clearing debris from the roads; restoring the islands’ water, power and communication systems; and providing residents with basic necessities such as medical care, food, water, shelter and tarps for their roofs. Many residents’ homes were severely damaged or destroyed.

The patients who were evacuated from the Schneider hospital were transported to medical facilities in St. Croix and Puerto Rico. Some patients from St. John were also evacuated to those neighboring islands. St. Croix received minimal damage from the hurricane.

Over 200 residents who need dialysis treatment and several cancer patients who need chemotherapy have also been transported to Puerto Rico. Davis noted that Dr. Erole Hobdy, a board certified medical oncologist and hematologist whose office is in the VI Medical Foundation Building on St. Thomas, is available for patients who require chemotherapy.

“We have a list of all the patients that have been transferred, so they are being connected with their loved ones,” Davis said.  Patients who were relocated to Puerto Rico were sent to different hospitals, but Davis said the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are helping to keep track of those patients.

Status of St. John Clinics

The two medical clinics on the island of St. John – the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center and the Morris de Castro Clinic – were also damaged by Hurricane Irma.

“Myrah Keating sustained a lot of damage. Some of its roof came off and bricks in some of the building,” Davis said. However, she said the facility is operational, because the part of the roof that came off was not covering any clinical areas. “The challenge is that Myrah Keating happens to be located in a very steep hill in St. John, so it’s not convenient for everyone to get there.”

The Morris de Castro Clinic sustained minor damage and is easier to access, but Davis said, “it’s not open because the water is contaminated, and the clinic needs medical staff so it can operate. A lot of the staff are homeless.”

The commissioner said she has asked the federal government for more nurses. A lot of nurses have volunteered their services, but she said the Department of Health has to make sure that these nurses have the proper credentials before they can begin working.

Country singer Kenny Chesney, who lost his home in St. John, donated much-needed antibiotics and other medications to the clinic in St. John, Davis said.

“We have assessed all of the private pharmacies. They are all open, but of course their stocks are dwindling,” Davis added.

The ambulance boat that was used to transport patients from St. John to the St. Thomas hospital was also damaged, but patients can be airlifted off island if necessary.

Nursing Home and Mental Health Facilities

Sea View, the only nursing home on St. Thomas, and the Eldra Schulterbrandt residential living facility, the only mental health facility on St. Thomas, also sustained damages, but they will remain open until an appropriate facility is identified to relocate these patients, Davis said. If the Schulterbrandt facility can be repaired, she said, patients may stay there.

All Clinics on St. Thomas are Open

The Prenatal clinic, the Family Planning Clinic, and the Maternal and Child Care Clinic have reopened. All three clinics are now operating out of the Elaine Co/Maternal & Child Health building, located across from Nisky Center on St. Thomas.

The Community Health Clinic and the Communicable Disease Clinic are also open, and caring for patients at the Knud Hansen Complex, located in Hospital Ground on St. Thomas.

Residents do not need to make any appointments. For more information, call 340-773-7477 ext. 5614.

Emergency Services on St. Thomas Remain Intact

The 911 emergency system is fully functional, and all of the ambulances on St. Thomas are in good condition, because they were placed in a secure facility prior to the hurricane, Davis said. The Health Department also has two fully-equipped mobile health vans, one on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix, which it will use to provide medical care to residents who may have difficulty getting to the temporary hospital.

The commissioner said the New Jersey Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team will be arriving on the island to assist with emergency rescues. The team is sending several mini-ambulances, designed to traverse hard-to-reach areas, and several paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and mental health professionals.

To help residents affected by the hurricane go to http://www.usvirecovery.org.

** Please note: While I usually post my opinions on the news in this section.  This article is not an op-ed.

Related Video:


News Alert: More Distribution Centers Open in USVI to Serve Hurricane Victims

By Shirley L. Smith

Gov. Kenneth Mapp announced Friday that three additional distribution centers have been opened on St. Thomas to distribute water and MREs (meals ready-to-eat) to residents.

Each person should receive a minimum of 14 MREs and 12 bottles of water, but Mapp said if someone has a large family, that person will be able to get more provisions. According to the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), the distribution centers are located in the following areas:

St. Thomas

Kirwan Terrace Ball Park
Tutu Fire Station
Omar Brown Sr. Fire Station on Lover’s Lane
Bordeaux Basketball Court
Dorothea Fire Station
Ivanna Eudora Kean High School

St. John

Coral Bay Fire Station
Winston Wells Ball Park

Update The distribution center in Bordeaux is located at the Bordeaux Basketball Court, according to an official at the Emergency Operations Center in St. Thomas.  The government mistakenly announced that it was located at the Fire Station in Bordeaux.  After this list was posted, the government announced the opening of two additional distribution centers on St. Thomas: the Government Parking Lot, adjacent to Fort Christian, and the Virgin Islands Legislation.  Also, a new distribution center has been opened in St. John at the Julius E. Sprauve Elementary School’s ballpark.



News Alert: Death Toll Increases in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Tensions Rise After Hurricane Irma’s Devastation

By Shirley L. Smith  Updated at 4:35 p.m. (EST)

The death toll in the U.S. Virgin Islands has risen to five after Hurricane Irma tore through the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island on Sept. 6, destroying countless homes and shattering the lives of thousands of Virgin Islanders, many of whom still have vivid memories of the suffering they endured after the islands were devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.  Some of the remnants of those disasters were still obvious prior to Irma.

Work to restore the electrical and water distribution system in the islands was temporarily halted Wednesday after Jason Julius, a lineman with the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) was fatally electrocuted late Tuesday while helping to restore power in the Sugar Estate area of St. Thomas, according to a government issued statement.

All three islands lost electricity after Hurricane Irma struck, and thousands of residents have been without power for nine days. Residents have also been living under a strictly enforced curfew, and they have only been able to move around for six hours a day. However, the governor relaxed the curfew Thursday. The new curfew will be from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. the following day. This will give residents an additional two hours to get supplies.

“Jason lost his life working to get the lives of the people of the territory … particularly of those on St. Thomas and St. John, back to some sense of normalcy,” Mapp said. “The loss of this Virgin Islander should underscore just how difficult and how complex and how ravage this territory is by this storm.”

The governor has held almost daily news conferences to update the public on recovery efforts since the hurricane, and he usually has a calm demeanor. However, on Wednesday, Mapp lashed out at residents who he said have made unwarranted complaints against volunteers and first responders especially those who have spread rumors on social media.

Mapp even suggested that these residents go away to the mainland for a few months, because he said they “are getting in the way of the reconstruction,” and they are “affecting the morale of the people that are working hard and sacrificing to make your life better.”

“These folks’ homes have been destroyed,” Mapp said in an irate tone. “They are working for you during the day and struggling to provide for their families. They go home at night and their children wonder why they are not around all day taking care of them, as they look up through their roof and see the sky, and when it drizzles, the water is coming into their houses.”

While the governor said he recognizes that people are struggling and hurting, he said, “We need to get our expectations back to a modicum of reality.”

“You have to stop expecting that recovery is going to come in a matter of days,” Mapp said. “This was a Category 5 event.  Today makes day seven, and if you have any belief that your lives will be made whole in a week, two weeks or a month, you are living in La La land.”

The islands’ communication system was severely damaged by the hurricane, but residents with cell phones have been able to make calls and use the Internet in certain areas.  Keeping phones charged is a problem though, because so many people are still without power

Residents on St. John, who were climbing on rooftops to get a Wi-Fi signal, can now get a Wi-Fi connection at the Virgin Islands Port Authority’s temporary parking lot in Cruz Bay, Mapp said, adding that over 300 people in St. John were gathered at the site Wednesday to use their cell phones.

Several Wi-Fi hotspots have also been setup on St. Thomas that will allow residents there to use their cell phones and obtain Internet access. These hotspots are located in the Tutu Park Mall, Havensight Shopping Center and by the Emile Griffin Park.

Governor Promises Residents That They Will Get More Supplies 

Tension among residents seem to be growing, as many are not only living in the dark without running water, but they have to stand in long lines for gas, drinking water and ready-to-eat meals. Some residents cannot even get to the distribution centers due to damaged vehicles, roadways overrun with debris, heavy traffic and the strict curfew, said Ramona Smith, who resides in Estate Mandahl, which is situated in the north side of St. Thomas.

The governor did not say what will be done to help residents who cannot get to the distribution centers for much-needed food and water, especially the elderly and people who are disabled. Attempts to obtain answers to these question on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Residents who do make it through the debris, end up sitting in traffic for hours and by the time some of them get to the distribution centers, they are closed, Smith said, adding that some residents on the north side feel neglected.

Despite lashing out at residents for complaining, Mapp acknowledged that people were not getting the supplies they desperately need in a timely manner, and he apologized to residents for the limited number of food and water they have been getting at the distribution centers.

Mapp said he was not aware that residents were only getting one liter of water and two meals after standing in a long line at the distribution centers. He directed the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) to give each person 14 meals and 12 bottles of water at the centers, and if residents do not get this allotment of water and food, Mapp said they should notify his office.

The distribution centers on St. Thomas are located at the Kirwan Terrace Ballpark, the new Omar Brown Sr. Fire Station on Lovers Lane, which is adjacent to Barbel Plaza, and the Tutu Fire Station. The centers on St. John are located at the Winston Wells Ball Park in Cruz Bay and the Fire Station near the Guy Benjamin Elementary School in Coral Bay. The governor said he plans to open two more distribution centers.

A FEMA official at the news conference reassured residents that there will be a continuous flow of fuel, food and water into the territory. Officials did not say when residents will be able to get other necessities like toiletries and clothes, but a few stores have opened on St. Thomas where residents can get these items.

Tim Duncan and Michael Bloomberg Committed to Helping the USVI Recover  

The governor announced that retired professional basketball player Tim Duncan, who is a native of St. Croix, and former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, will arrive on St. Croix today. Duncan has raised over $2.3 million for the disaster relief effort in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and he will be distributing donated supplies to hurricane victims. https://www.youcaring.com/21usvirginislandrelieffund-942738.

“I want to extend my thanks to Tim and his team for all that they are doing for his homeland and what he is doing for his fellow Virgin Islanders,” Mapp said. “Mayor Bloomberg and his company have been tremendously supportive of this government and our efforts for recovery to the extent that he has amassed a team of professionals that worked with him in the recovery of Hurricane Sandy in New York City.”

The governor has partnered with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to create a special fund and a website to handle donations for the disaster recovery effort. He said anyone interested in making a contribution directly to the U.S. Virgin Islands should go to http://www.usvirecovery.org.

St. Thomas Airport Will Reopen Saturday

The governor confirmed that the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas will reopen on Saturday for commercial airline traffic, and American and Delta airlines will resume service.

More Law Enforcement Officers Being Deployed to the U.S. Territory

The governor and Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr. have expressed frustration over unverified reports on social media about widespread burglaries and violence.

“While we did have some burglaries, and we had some ATMS that were breached, we’ve been very clear that we have not been able to establish any evidence or any complaints filed that folks were victimized, that they were robbed, that they were held in home invasions [or] that their cars were taken from them,” Mapp told members of the national media on Thursday.  “We’ve mobilized more police resources and more National Guard troops on the ground.”

Commissioner Richards echoed the governor’s comments in a news release. He said there were some instances of looting by desperate people in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, but there have been “no reports of serious crime associated with the storm or its aftermath.”

“Social media posts about stolen firearms and widespread looting on St. John are unfounded. Contact has been made with the Jurgen Command in Cruz Bay, St. John where officers confirm that these and other allegations about lawlessness are false,” Richards said.

The commissioner said he has beefed up security on all of the islands including St. Croix, and the local police department will be getting assistance from law enforcement officers and National Guard troops from New York, Alabama and other jurisdictions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has pledged to support the recovery efforts by sending 100 of his state’s National Guard troops, 30 state troopers, Humvees and a vehicle called a “gator”, which can access areas difficult to reach, according to a news release from Government House.  The first group of 27 troops will arrive on Saturday.

The police department sustained losses to its buildings and vehicles, and police officers have been working non-stop even though about 70 percent of officers have lost their homes, Richards said.

The governor insisted that the additional security is not due to increased crime but rather to help maintain law and order, and due to concern of convicted criminals coming by boat from the British Virgin Islands where the prison system has been breached. The damage in the British Virgin Islands is reportedly worse than the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Disaster Assistance Now Available to St. Croix Residents

The island of St. Croix sustained minimal damage from Irma, but Mapp said after surveying the island he has discovered that some residents in St. Croix need disaster assistance too, because “a number of people have suffered severe leaks in their homes.” Some people have also sustained damage to their taxi vehicles and businesses which has affected their ability to earn a living.

All residents who sustained damage to their property as a result of Hurricane Irma can apply for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by calling 800-621-3362 or going online at http://www.disaterassistance.gov. FEMA officials will be erecting signs throughout the territory with this information. Call stations and computer terminals will also be established, but the governor did not have a specific date of when these stations will be operational.

Update:  Since this article was published on Sept. 14, all flights that were planned for Saturday on the island of St. Thomas have been cancelled. The Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas was slated to open Saturday for commercial traffic, but the Virgin Islands Port Authority announced Friday afternoon that the airport will not open for commercial flights on Saturday after all.

Officials from Delta and American airlines said Friday that they will resume commercial flight service to St. Thomas on Monday, Sept. 18, but this is subject to change based on airport conditions. Both airlines plan to send one flight in and out of the island. However, American Airlines will resume its commercial flight service to St. Croix, which was cancelled due to damage of its Miami hub, on Saturday, Sept. 16, as planned, said Ross Feinstein, spokesperson for American Airlines.

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News Alert: Disaster Relief and Recovery Efforts are Underway in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it will be a Long Haul

By Shirley L. Smith  Updated at 8:19 p.m. (EST)

Residents of St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands were able to venture outside this weekend to survey the damage for the first time since Hurricane Irma ravaged the islands last Wednesday, leaving many people homeless and cut off from the rest of the world.

Unlike residents in Texas and Florida, who were able to evacuate before hurricanes swept through their states, Virgin Islanders and people living in other islands in the Caribbean were literally trapped.  Their only option was to board up their homes, stock up on supplies and brace themselves for the ferocious Category 5 winds of Hurricane Irma, which left behind massive destruction and caused a power outage in the entire district of St. Thomas and St. John, which includes Water Island.  Most of the residents on the islands have been without power for more than five days.

The antiquated power system was already in a fragile state before the hurricane, as residents are often inconvenienced by frequent power outages.

Officials could not say when power will be fully restored to the St. Thomas – St. John District.  However, “portions of St. Thomas were restored of electrical service on Sunday afternoon,”  said Jean Greaux, spokesperson for the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), in a radio interview on Monday.  These areas include the Cyril E. King Airport, part of the Schneider Regional Medical Center that is still functional and several areas in the downtown area of St. Thomas.  Some areas of St. Croix were also still without power on Monday.

The islands once picturesque waterfront and hillside views were replaced by debris from destroyed homes and businesses, fallen trees, power lines, wrecked vessels and muddy water. Those who have seen the destruction up close say the islands look like a war zone. Gov. Kenneth Mapp admitted that he was taken aback by the destruction even though he has seen the islands devastated before by two major hurricanes – Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.

The government is still trying to assess the damage in the St. Thomas – St. John District so it is too early to say how many people lost their homes and businesses. It has been difficult to communicate with people on the islands, because the landline telephones are not working and cell phone service is sparse.

Mapp visited the island of St. John on Sunday. It was his first visit since the hurricane, and he said he was amazed to see a group of people gathered on a rooftop trying to get cell service.

“The resilience of the people of St. John is just amazing,” Mapp said. “They are actually cooking at the Julius Sprauve [School] kitchen and taking food to the Bethany Moravian Church shelter and to the legislature. The school lunch workers have come in and are preparing hot meals for them, and they are getting some of the provisions from what they had there from the school lunch program. Some people are bringing in stuff from their homes. So, folks are really taking a bad situation and helping each other and making the best of it.”

The governor reassured residents of St. John who have expressed feelings of abandonment, that, “they are not forgotten.” He said, “We are not leaving them on their own.”

The district-wide curfew, which went into effect last Wednesday, was partially lifted on Saturday, but only for six hours for safety reasons, as many of the roads are impassable and crews are on the ground trying to repair fallen power lines. Residents who violate curfew and move or cut power lines are only impeding the crews’ ability to restore electricity, the governor said, warning that violators will be arrested.  The U.S. Marine Corps will assist the government with clearing debris today. The current curfew is from 6 p.m. to noon.

While recovery efforts are underway, Mapp told residents it is going to be a slow process to restore communication and electricity to the estimated 58,000 residents who live in the district.

“This is a horrific disaster,” Mapp said. “There will be no restoration and solutions in days and weeks. Let’s manage our expectations.”  Mapp added that, “Towers or cell systems were blown away on the island of St. Thomas.”

The government has been communicating with residents through the radio and online, but several residents say they have poor radio reception, and those without cell service or a generator cannot access the Internet.

WAPA was also able to restore water service to some residents on St. Thomas who are connected to the portable water system.  However, many residents still have no running water, because a lot of residents get their water from individual cisterns.

Infrastructure Severely Damaged

The infrastructure in the St. Thomas – St. John District was either destroyed or severely damaged at every level — from the islands’ medical facilities to their airport and seaports; police and fire stations; water and power distribution system; and parts of their court system.  Two of the main post offices on St. Thomas have also been destroyed, according to a government source.

On Sunday, government officials were working with the military to evacuate all prisoners off-island.

Police Commissioner Delroy Richards praised his officers for their diligence under such stressful conditions. “I would like to take this time to reach out to my folks, the police officers in the territory, who have braved the weather and continue to perform admirably 24 hours a day especially on the island of St. Thomas. I would say about 70 percent of my officers lost their homes, and 80 percent of them have reported to duty.”

Richards asked residents to be patient, because the police are working with limited resources, and they have lost about 20 percent of their cars. The Virgin Islands National Guard is assisting the police with patrolling and giving out supplies at the distribution centers.

Temporary Hospital Will Be Erected

Although the Schneider Regional Medical Center, the only hospital on St. Thomas, was destroyed, the emergency room remains open and is capable of attending to residents’ medical needs. However, the government was forced to evacuate all of the patients from Schneider to hospitals in St. Croix and Puerto Rico.

The Department of Health is also relocating 200 patients who need dialysis to Puerto Rico, said the Commissioner of Health Michelle Davis.  Officials did not say how family members will be able to get in contact with patients or prisoners who were transported off-island.

Although the governor announced after the hurricane that a temporary hospital would be established at a school, that plan has changed.  Instead, Mapp said, the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) will install a temporary mobile hospital in the front parking lot of the Schneider hospital. That facility is expected to open this week, but Mapp said that a more “structured facility” will be setup in the rear of the hospital that will be better equipped to provide extensive medical services.

“The Department of Health is planning to reopen our maternal and child health clinic at Nisky Center in which we will be providing pediatrics and prenatal care for all walk-ins. No appointments will be needed,” Davis said. “We need physicians for adult and pediatric care.”

Government Operations Relocated

“Government House on St. Thomas lost its rear roof and suffered severe water damage due to Hurricane Irma,” said Samuel Topp, the governor’s spokesperson, in a news release on Sunday. The historic building, located in downtown Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, the capital of the Virgin Islands, usually serves as the main headquarters for the governor.

“Governor Kenneth E. Mapp and his team are currently working out of the Emergency Operations Command at the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) on St. Thomas and the Governor’s St. Croix offices, which were not damaged by Hurricane Irma,” Topp said. “St. Croix’s infrastructure is mostly intact, but we have some serious issues on St. Thomas and St. John.”

Government services on St. Croix were scheduled to resume today, and schools on St. Croix will open on Tuesday.

St. Croix will also be the main command center for recovery efforts in the British Virgin Islands, which also sustained catastrophic damages. Many Virgin Islanders in the U.S. territory have family and friends in the British Virgin Islands.

“We are very honored to be able to provide that assistance and to provide that support, and anything we can do to further Great Britain’s attempts to aid our friends and our families that are in the British Virgin Islands,” Mapp. said.

Status of Airport and Seaports

The Virgin Islands Port Authority reported Monday that all of the seaports in the St. Thomas – St. John District have reopened.  However, service between Cruz Bay, St. John and Red Hook, St. Thomas is only operational during daylight hours.

The Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas has also reopened but only for emergency relief flights.  The agency has set a tentative date of Sept. 16 to reopen the King Airport for commercial airline traffic.

Distribution Centers Open

Now that the St. Thomas airport and commercial marine port facilities are open, major relief commodities and personnel will be arriving steadily into St. Thomas, Mapp said.

Five distribution centers have also opened to distribute much-needed water, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and tarpaulins.

The centers on St. Thomas are located at the Kirwan Terrace Ballpark, the new Fire Station on Lover’s Lane and at the Tutu Fire Station.  Commodities are being delivered by air and cargo vessel to St. John, Mapp said. 

The centers on St. John are located in Coral Bay and Cruz Bay.  However, Mapp did not specify the exact location of these centers.  Tarps will also be delivered to Water Island on Tuesday where most of the approximately 200 homes suffered damage, Mapp said.

The governor also reported at an earlier news conference that Tutu Plaza on St. Thomas is open for business.

Students Can Continue School on St. Croix

While the extent of the damage to the educational system is still unknown, Mapp told residents that children can go to school on St. Croix.  “If you have family on St. Croix, and you live in St. Thomas and St. John, and you want to transfer your children to St. Croix to be able to attend school, you can do that. You don’t need to get report cards or anything of that nature.” He said students’ records are digitized, so education officials have access to all of the records.

Teachers in the St. Thomas – St. John District and support staff will be able to work at schools on St. Croix.

FEMA Assistance Available

Unlike previous hurricanes, where residents had to stand in long lines to apply for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), FEMA officials said residents can now call 1-800-621-3362 or go online and apply for aid at http://www.disaterassistance.gov. Call stations and computer terminals will be established for residents soon, Mapp said.

Plans to Evacuate Tourists

Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have volunteered to help evacuate the 4,000 visitors who were on the island when Hurricane Irma hit.  The tourists will also be evacuated by airlines who have agreed to do some humanitarian flights, according to Topp.  The Department of Tourism is coordinating this effort. See http://www.usviupdate.com/

Donate to Credible Organizations

The government is working with the local community foundations to create a fund to aid disaster victims.  In the interim, Mapp urged people who want to help to donate to established charities like the Red Cross or credible organizations and to avoid online Go Fund Me accounts, because there is no guarantee that the money will be used to help victims or the recovery effort.

Retired San Antonio Spurs basketball player and St. Croix native, Tim Duncan, has created a fund online to raise donations for hurricane victims.  He has pledged to donate $250,000 and match financial contributions of up to $1 million.  The fund has already raised over $2 million. https://www.youcaring.com/21usvirginislandrelieffund-942738. Country singer Kenny Chesney, who lost his home in St. John, has also created a relief fund on his website http://www.kennychesney.com.

** Please note: While I usually post my opinions on the news in this section.  This article is not an op-ed.

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Four people were found dead after Hurricane Irma not three as stated in this broadcast.  While some people have been reported missing, as of Sept. 10, 2017, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said no more fatalities had been reported.

News Alert: Thousands in USVI Still in Dark and Under Curfew After Hurricane Irma’s Vicious Attack

By Shirley L. Smith

Four people were found dead on St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday, and the only hospital on the island was virtually destroyed, said Gov. Kenneth Mapp at a news conference Thursday which the media could listen to via telephone.  Unfortunately, only reporters in the room could ask questions.

The massive hurricane ripped the roofs off many homes and left everyone on St. Thomas and St. John without electricity except for those with generators or solar systems. “The entire district of St. Thomas and St. John is without electricity,” said Samuel Topp, the governor’s spokesperson, in an interview following the news conference.  Topp added that restoring power is one of the governor’s top priorities, and technicians are at the plant and in the field working to repair the system.

Landline telephone service is also down so it is difficult to get news or communicate with residents living on St. Thomas and St. John, which has caused a lot of anxiety among residents and their relatives who live off-island.  Some residents have been able to communicate via cell phone and social media.

As a precaution, many of the patients at the Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas were discharged and sent home prior to the storm, Topp said.  The remaining patients were evacuated to the hospital on St. Croix Thursday and 37 of those patients will be transported to Puerto Rico, as they are better equipped to deal with those patients at this time, he said.

Even though the hospital on St. Thomas is practically destroyed, the governor said the emergency room is still functional and will remain open for now, so he urged people who need medical care to go to the emergency room.

The governor was on the island of St. Croix when the hurricane hit, so he said he has not had an opportunity to personally assess the damage on St. Thomas, but he plans to travel to St. Thomas today.   St. John has also reportedly sustained major damage, but St. Croix only received minimal damage.

When the St. Thomas hospital was severely damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, tents were erected on the lawn of the hospital, but Mapp said no tents will be used this time, because there are more storms in the region.  Instead, he said, he is considering using one of the schools as a temporary hospital.

The shelter at E. Benjamin Oliver Elementary School on St. Thomas had to close due to damage, but Mapp said he and his team are working on opening a new shelter at Lockhart Elementary School.  Distribution centers will also be setup to give out supplies.

The governor said he told Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, that the territory’s primary needs are: four major power generation systems to provide electricity to shelters, tarpaulins, hygiene packs, cots, blankets, water and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

Since the police department also sustained a lot of damage and many officers lost their homes, the National Guard will be deployed tomorrow to assist the police.  Also, the U.S. Department of Defense will bring in troops to help the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), but Mapp asked residents not to be alarmed, because the troops are not coming for security reasons.

Mapp also pleaded with residents not to tamper with fallen power lines. “Do not tamper with power lines on the ground. Let the professional folks handle that.”  He said when people move or cut power lines, they create more problems and make it difficult for the professionals to do their work and restore electricity.

For now, he said, the curfew in St. Thomas and St. John will remain in place which means that residents are still unable to get out for help.  However, the curfew in St. Croix has been lifted and government workers on that island are required to return to work today.  The schools will remain closed until further notice.

For those who want to help, he said volunteers are needed at the Emergency Operations Center on St.  Thomas where the staff has been working around the clock.

The governor applauded the Trump administration for their support and swift action to assist with hurricane relief efforts.

For more information and suggestions on how you can help hurricane victims, go to https://www.facebook.com/repstaceyplaskett/videos/1292778474165078/

Please note: While I usually post my opinions on the news in this section.  This article is not an op-ed.

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Health Care Reform – A “Deal” Trump Cannot Afford to Abandon

By Shirley L. Smith

President Donald Trump and his cohorts have had to face a harsh reality over the last several months – running a country is not like running a corporation where success is measured in dollars and cents, and you can get away with backroom deals.

Americans should be outraged by the arrogance of the Republican leadership and their callous approach to repealing and replacing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement known as Obamacare.

The fundamental tenet of democracy is transparency. Citizens in a democracy have a right to know what their elected officials are doing so they can make informed decisions about policy issues. Yet, 13 male Republicans in the Senate gathered in secret to draft a health care bill that would affect millions of Americans for generations without giving the rest of the legislative body an opportunity to fully participate in the process.

To add insult to injury, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to ram the proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would have repealed and replaced Obamacare, through the Senate without any public hearings.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the Senate bill would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion, largely by cutting $772 billion in Medicaid spending. It would also cause 22 million Americans to lose their health insurance by 2026.

Medicaid provides health insurance to 74 million low-income Americans including children and people with disabilities. About 61 percent of Medicaid’s funds are spent on the elderly and disabled individuals, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

After failing to coerce fellow Republicans to quickly repeal and replace Obamacare, Sen. McConnell introduced a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it later.  The CBO estimates that this plan, which was also quashed, would reduce the federal deficit by $473 billion, but double premiums and increase the number of uninsured Americans to 32 million by 2026.

In the wake of the health care debacle, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose vote Sen. McConnell was counting on, ironically, had to undergo emergency surgery for a blood clot above his eye that was discovered during a routine physical exam. Soon after surgery, McCain was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, which might have gone unnoticed had McCain not had quality health care.

Sen. McConnell cannot afford to lose any votes, because Democrats remain staunchly against overturning Obamacare.

If the Republicans genuinely wanted to provide health insurance to all Americans, instead of complaining about Obamacare for seven years, they would have worked on a well-thought-out bill to replace or fix Obamacare.  They would have also held open hearings to get feedback from officials in the health care industry and the public, but the Republicans are afraid such hearings would backfire and ruin their party line that “Obamacare is a failure” beyond repair.

Trump, co-author of The Art of the Deal, initially responded to the Senate’s botched efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare by advising Republicans to just “let Obamacare fail.” After widespread criticism of his heartless remarks, Trump ordered the senators to renegotiate.

Health care reform is not a business deal where you can just cut your losses and move on to the next deal if profits are low. Elected officials have a moral responsibility to consider the human cost of their policies to the people who they have pledged to represent. While politicians also have a fiduciary duty to be fiscally responsible, that should not take precedence over human suffering.

The truth is, most Republicans are not interested in government-sponsored universal health care, and they have tried to undermine Obamacare from its inception; although it’s unclear how much of their opposition to Obamacare is about ideology or their disdain for Obama.

Republicans refused to work with Obama to draft a health care bill, and they unabashedly created public hysteria to prevent the passage of Obamacare by spreading the myth that it would create “death panels” designed to kill off elderly and disabled people who were deemed unworthy of health care.  Former House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner even predicted that Obamacare was a harbinger of Armageddon.

The Republican Party only agreed to develop a replacement for Obamacare when they realized it was in their political interest, as many of their constituents are now reaping the benefits of Obamacare, and they are no longer susceptible to tales of grandma being pushed off a cliff.

Medical experts have long understood that a healthy population equals a healthy economy, and the best approach to a good health care system and controlling health care costs is preventing illness rather than treating people after they become sick.  This is what Obamacare strives to do.   Sadly, many Americans, Trump among them, still do not understand the benefits or intent of Obamacare.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, “Health problems are a major drain on the economy, resulting in 69 million workers reporting missed days due to illness each year. This loss of productivity reduces economic output by $260 billion per year.”

Despite Republicans’ hyperbole that Obamacare is a failure, Obamacare has provided health insurance to about 20 million Americans who were uninsured.  Data from the KFF show that most of the newly insured are low-income, full-time workers and part-time workers whose employers do not provide health insurance or provide limited insurance.  The newly insured also include unemployed adults, most of whom are unable to work due to illness or disability; people with preexisting conditions who were previously denied coverage; and young adults who are now able to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

Obamacare has saved the lives of countless Americans who would have died from preventable illnesses due to their inability to afford medical care and necessary medications, and it has spared Americans from incurring significant debt from high medical bills.

Obamacare has also increased access to preventative care services by requiring most insurers to cover these services without any copayments or deductible requirements. This allows most Americans to get free cancer screenings, flu shots, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, screening and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases, and counseling and treatment for substance abuse and smoking cessation as well as other preventative care services.  Most insured women can also get free contraceptives.

CDC studies reveal that increased access to preventative care has led to early detection of health problems resulting in better health outcomes for children and adults, the prevention of chronic illnesses and diseases, increased longevity and the reduction of health care costs.

The overall economic impact of Obamacare is immeasurable.  KFF analysts found that the states that received increased federal dollars due to the expansion of their Medicaid program under Obamacare have seen revenues increase for health care providers that serve Medicaid beneficiaries, vendors and the state.

The Medicaid expansion program also offers assistance to families with ailing parents and grandparents to help them provide at-home care.  This improves the mental and emotional health of the elderly and reduces placement in costly nursing homes that are primarily paid for by Medicaid.  KFF data show that Medicaid insures six in 10 nursing home residents.

Although Obamacare has had a positive impact on Americans’ health and the economy, it does have its shortcomings.  Premiums have increased markedly, but the number of people affected has been overblown.

The New York Times reported that the premium increases affect three percent of insured Americans.  The majority of those affected are people with private insurance who are not covered by an employer. Since 85 percent of people in the insurance marketplace that was created by Obamacare receive subsidies, most of them have been shielded from the increases. So, the tables have turned. Now, middle and high-income earners are having trouble affording health care, and Republicans are up in arms.

In a recent report, KFF analysts explained that the “premium increases were necessary as a one-time market correction to adjust for a sicker-than-expected risk pool,” due to more people with preexisting conditions being insured.

Another troubling trend that may disrupt the insurance market if not addressed is the exit of several insurers from the Obamacare marketplace.  In some states, particularly in rural areas where there are less customers, people in the marketplace have no insurance options or only one option.

Contrary to the doomsday predictions, however, KFF analysts, who reviewed insurers’ financial data, contend that the insurance market shows “no sign of a market collapse.” But, the actions by the Trump administration and Congress, and the ambiguity over the future of Obamacare could destabilize the market.

KFF analysts warn that the uncertainty about whether the administration will continue to reimburse insurers for providing coverage to low-income earners in the marketplace at a reduced rate and whether the individual mandate – which requires all Americans to buy insurance – will be enforced has prompted more insurers to leave the marketplace or request larger premiums than they would have otherwise.  The mandate guarantees insurers that they will not end up covering mostly sick people, as healthy, young people tend to delay buying insurance.

The New York Times also reported that Trump refuses to advertise or do any outreach to promote Obamacare, another move that could sink the program.

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to repeal and replace “the disaster known as Obamacare” with a better plan. “You’re going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost, and it’s going to be so easy,” he said.

If Obamacare does implode, it will be because of Trump’s unconscionable tactics to sabotage the program, the Republicans’ ineptness and misinformation campaign, and the Democrats’ inaction. And, the American people, especially the poor, are the ones who will suffer.



Trump Failed First Test as World Leader

By Shirley L. Smith

For weeks, ardent supporters of President Donald Trump have been telling people who were alarmed by Trump’s fiery rhetoric on the campaign trail to “give him a chance,” but on his first full day as leader of the free world, Trump used his platform to disparage the media and quibble over the size of his inauguration crowd, rather than quell the concerns of demonstrators who came out in solidarity around the country and worldwide to protest his presidency and policies.

Trump failed to even acknowledge the swarms of women who led a peaceful protest on Saturday outside of the White House and across the nation to support women’s rights and human rights, and espouse America’s core values which they feel are in danger under a Trump presidency.  According to historians, the protest – which included men, children, civil rights icons and movie stars of all races – was unprecedented in its scope.  It is estimated that over a million people participated in the march.

“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” Trump told CIA officials Saturday.  Even though Trump openly criticized the CIA on Twitter and on camera, he reassured them that he loved them.  This would have been a great moment had Trump not falsely blamed the media for inaccurately reporting statements that he made vilifying the CIA, and had he spent less time talking about himself and whining about the size of his inauguration turnout, which he insisted was underreported by the media despite clear photographs showing large gaps in the crowd.

Trump’s constant attacks on the media are disconcerting, because our democracy depends on a free press that reports on the actions of our government and holds public officials accountable so the public can make informed decisions.  This is what separates America from countries that are controlled by dictators whose citizens have no say in their government, and are penalized and even killed for speaking out against the government.

While reporters are fallible, the majority of reporters are people of integrity who work long hours to make sure their facts are accurate.  Oftentimes they work under stressful conditions for insufficient wages.  They do so, because they want to make a difference in society, and give a voice to people who are disenfranchised or marginalized.  This is why I became a journalist.

Sadly, Trump’s proclivity to alter the truth, belittle people who do not agree with him and talk about complex issues in simplistic terms, has been effective, especially for people whose main source of news is social media.  They may not watch an entire newscast or read an article from a credible news organization, but they listen to sound bites and read tweets of his outrageous statements and catchy phrases like, “Little Marco,” “Low Energy” Jeb and “Crooked Hillary.”

These repetitive slogans, which branded his opponents and casted them in a negative light, had a subliminal effect on some voters.  Trump is now working on branding  reporters as being part of the “dishonest media” and trying to force them into submission through ridicule. This is dangerous, because if Trump succeeds in further eroding the public’s confidence in the media, the fate of our democracy will be in jeopardy.

Like many Americans, I was hoping that after Trump became president, he would do some introspection and rise to the occasion by finally apologizing for his divisive rhetoric and giving a unifying speech at his inauguration, but he continues to inflame tensions, engage in petty banter, and dismiss the concerns and fears of Americans who did not vote for him, but who still count.

For example, when Trump talks about law and order, he praises the police for their service, which is appropriate, because many police officers are honorable men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe.  But, he fails to recognize the pain that people of color feel from watching numerous black men being unjustly gunned down in the streets by police officers who abuse their authority.

Trump does not seem to comprehend how his dismissive attitude and rhetoric have increased racial tensions or how the salacious remarks he made about grabbing women’s private parts, which were captured on an audio recording, deeply disturbed women.  Although these statements were made years ago and Trump apologized, he dismissed his statements as “locker room” talk, as if that made them acceptable.  This was a slap to every woman who has ever been sexually harassed or assaulted.

Many of us were told as children, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  However, this is a falsity.  Words do hurt, sometimes more than physical wounds, because wounds heal, but hurtful words can penetrate one’s soul and have a lasting impact.  Yet, Trump and his surrogates refuse to acknowledge how his sexist and offensive statements have sowed the seeds of discord in this country.

Trump’s behavior is a stark contrast to President Barack Obama, who often took the high road and managed to elevate the tenor of public discourse.

It is time for Trump, a self-proclaimed man of action, to LISTEN to the cries of his compatriots and bring people together.  This is what Americans expect of their president.  People need to know that their president cares about them, all of them.  Trump’s message obviously resonated with many Americans who also have valid concerns, but Trump’s “take no hostages” mentality that paved his road to the White House, left many scarred.

Though Trump won the election, he lost the respect of countless people. Hopefully, the massive protests will be a wakeup call.  In the words of former Vice President Joe Biden, “Grow up, Donald. Grow up.” Biden made this statement in a parting interview with PBS NewsHour. He added, “Time to be an adult. You’re president.  You’ve got to do something. Show us what you have.”


Hillary Clinton Makes History As First Presidential Nominee and She Earned It

By Shirley L. Smith

Hillary Clinton seems to have a new bounce in her step since becoming the first woman to be nominated as president of the United States.


Like many Americans, I waited with some trepidation for Hillary to give her acceptance speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. I was not sure she would be able to rise to the occasion after the rousing, impassioned speeches from President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband former President Bill Clinton, but she pulled it off.  


Hillary took the baton that President Obama passed to her, and she enthusiastically ran with it like a true champion despite the scars of a long, rough journey.  She delivered a policy-rich speech that capped off a remarkable Democratic convention and made her, in my view, the winner of the first round of the presidential general election.


Despite a rocky start, the Democrats’ convention outmatched the Republicans in terms of substance, presentation, inclusiveness, political heavy weights, talent and intellectual discourse.  


The Democrats used the voices of real people to humanize important societal issues like mental illness, addiction, human trafficking, disability rights, the fears of American children whose parents immigrated to the U.S. illegally and other issues that are often marginalized in presidential elections.  It’s a technique long used by journalists to get people to care about an issue, because it is harder to dismiss a problem when you put a human face on it.


I mean who can forget the face of Anastasia Somoza, a disability rights advocate who was born with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. Somoza said she first met Hillary when she was nine years old, and over the past 23 years Hillary has helped her gain access to higher education and the workforce. “She has invested in me. She believes in me. And in a country where 56 million Americans with disabilities so often feel invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me,” Somoza said.


It is also difficult to forget the anguished faces of the mothers and family members whose loved ones were killed by senseless acts of gun violence. Then there was the powerful image of the Muslim-American parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, a war hero who was killed in Iraq.  Khan’s father, Khizr, held up a copy of the U.S. Constitution while he reminded GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump that there are Americans of different ethnicities and faiths who have died for their country. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” he said to Trump with rage in his voice. “We cannot solve our problems by building walls and sowing division.”


These personal stories exuded themes of hope, love and forgiveness which is best exemplified by President Obama and Hillary, former rivals who came together for the good of the country.


In keeping with the theme of the convention, Hillary gave America a peek into the woman behind the astute politician that we all know, but many still view with skepticism.


The often-guarded Hillary told Americans about her beloved mother who worked as a house maid at the age of 14 after being abandoned by her parents.  Hillary said her mother was saved by the kindness of strangers and her first-grade teacher who shared her lunch with her when she noticed she had nothing to eat.  Years later, Hillary said, her mother taught her that, “No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up.”  This is the lesson that seems to have been the driving force behind Hillary’s life’s work.


Hillary also recounted a story about how her mother refused to let her hide from a neighborhood bully. Instead of coddling her, Hillary said her mother forced her to confront the bully, telling her, “There is no room for cowards in this house.”


Whether you are “with her” or not, there is no denying that Hillary Clinton is a fighter who has dedicated her life to public service, and the glimpses into her private life that we saw in Philadelphia reveal that she is not just motivated by personal ambition, but deep convictions which were shaped by the hardships of her mother. This is a stark contrast to Trump who admits that he has been motivated by greed all of his life.                                                                                                                                           I suspect that Hillary’s dogged determination to win and succeed, and never cower or show weakness like she did when she was confronted by that neighborhood bully, has contributed to the air of distrust and unlike-ability that haunts her, which has been compounded by years of attacks by the Republicans.  However, we are seeing a new Hillary in this election cycle, one that has learned that it’s okay to admit mistakes and to let her defenses down sometimes, and one that realizes, you don’t have to get in the mud to prevail. Like Michelle Obama said in her brilliant convention speech, when your opponents go low, you go high. 

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