With power for most residents of St. Thomas expected to be out for months and less than a week’s supply of fresh water remaining, an emergency airlift of desperately needed supplies for the Caribbean island, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma, is on its way from Houston. It comes thanks to the efforts of Chabad of Houston — itself still recovering from Hurricane Harvey — and United Airlines, which donated space on one of its aircraft for the aid container.
Since the airport on St. Thomas is not in operation, the supplies are being flown to Puerto Rico. From there, a flotilla of 25 vessels organized in part by members of the St. Thomas Jewish community will ferry the supplies to the island. The relief comes only a week after Hurricane Irma blasted through the Caribbean on its way to Florida, leaving a wide swath of destruction on St. Thomas. The boats will also be filled with emergency aid and supplies provided by the government and citizens of Puerto Rico.
Rabbi Asher Federman, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Virgin Islands with his wife, Henya, says he has been coordinating with “our friends in the Chabad community of Houston, Texas, just recovering from a natural disaster of their own” to ship a 40-foot container of provisions and much-needed aid, including generators, diapers, baby formula, batteries, cleaning items and other supplies.
“Many people are occupied with securing the most basic of human needs—shelter, food and safety,” Federman said. “Food refrigeration, cell-phone charging, water pumps, laundry, toilets are a challenge for those without generators. There is a newfound appreciation for the ‘luxury’ of a simple shower.”
The rabbi says drinkable water is scarce, and basic provisions are running low. “We’ve received texts and calls from dear friends letting us know that they are subsisting on their last bits of food, but through all of this, we are doing our best to assist, provide, comfort and be there for everyone.”
Despite conditions on the island, Federman says he is determined to help provide for the Jewish community’s spiritual and material needs during the upcoming High Holy Days and Sukkot.
In the mean time, in a recent message to his community, Federman wrote: “Come hurricane or fire, Shabbat lunch will be at our place, usual time. Please join us!”