Vieques Island, Puerto Rico was whacked at Category 5 by Hurricane Maria. This little island is located seven miles of the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. And I’ve planned more than 500 beautiful weddings for amazing brides and grooms there. After Hurricane Maria, much of the “jewel of the Spanish Virgin Islands” has been destroyed.
Oh, we will rebuild. Vieques was flattened by Hurricane Huge in 1989. And although Maria was a stronger storm, post-Hugo most people rebuilt with concrete houses. Yes, Hurricane Maria destroyed many homes on Vieques, but not as many as her notorious predecessor.
Why isn’t the plight of Vieques on national news?
The problem is that nobody in the United States is talking about Vieques Island. You guys are all seeing devastating footage of the flooding on the main island of Puerto Rico. The CNN ticker is showing that a massive dam might burst. But nobody is talking about the 9,000 American on the little sister island of Vieques who are trapped, without power, without water, with any way to communicate with the outside world.
There are four satellite phones that we know about on the island – and with them they have been communicating the names of Vieques residents who are “safe” and accounted for. There are numerous pages on Facebook where you can post information about the people you’re looking for.
Unfortunately, the government of Puerto Rico’s list of people who have been accounted for doesn’t yet include the municipality of Vieques. It’s like we do not exist. Or maybe the island isn’t a total disaster zone. But you can see that there’s a terrifying amount of damage in the tourist town of Esperanza in this video from local station WAPA in San Juan. They had a reporter on Vieques through the storm.
My husband and I were fortunate enough to be stateside when both Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Vieques. We have joined up with other Vieques folks who were out of town, or evacuated. Kelly Thompson of Vieques Insider and Katie Anderson of Vieques Peeps are leading the charge. Brittany Roush and Steven Mueller are coordinating supply drops and evacuations. Robert Becker will be arriving in Vieques soon with satellite phones and other critical supplies. One Vieques homeowner traveled from Dallas to Miami to bring Becker another sat phone, and help him gather supplies for his journey.
How you can help Vieques
Everybody is working to promote the most legitimate fundraiser for Vieques – www.gofundme.com/viequeslove. One hundred percent of the proceeds derived from the fund will go to help the citizens of Vieques evacuate, rebuild, and survive with no power, no water, and no cell signals. The fund is a non-profit and will be associated with COREFI, a charitible community organization on the island.
How to find missing loved ones trapped on Vieques
And this same group of people, and a few more, are working together to post regular updates to a list of Vieques residents who we know are safe. There are several ways to check this list – listen to my podcast below for all the details. And please share it with other people who are desperately trying to find their own families and friends on Vieques.
The devastation on the island is real, but the first non-medial evacuee off the island, Jillian Anderson, reports that things are peaceful so far. It’s getting tense because the island has been without fuel to run generators for days, disaster cleanup is stalled because there’s no gas, and nobody on Vieques can get any news about what is actually happening on the big island.
In fact, Jillian and her husband Elliott (along with their toddler, dog and friend’s mother who got trapped during her vacation), all believed they had flights out of San Juan today. They moved heaven and earth to get a flight to Ceiba on the east coast of Puerto Rico, and worked their way west to the San Juan airport. Upon arrival, they found out the terrible truth that at this point, there are zero commercial flights leaving the island. Most of the airlines appear to be rebooking people for October 1st. They’ve found accommodations in San Juan, but there’s no power or water there, either, outside of hotels with backup systems.
Vieques is in a virtual news blackout, waiting for help
Because the population of Vieques is in a virtual news blackout, they don’t even know that the main island is battling raging flood waters. Or that all of Puerto Rico has gone dark. Or that the San Juan International airport sustained so much damage that they can only use one concourse in the terminal. The tower signals keep going in and out, causing a very dangerous situation. Only a few flights loaded with disaster relief workers and supplies are being permitted to land and disembark. Anybody who isn’t affiliated with a disaster/relief agency will be put back on a plane. Puerto Rico is effectively closed.
This is a call out to all of you who are reading this to remember that Vieques Island is a beautiful little piece of America. We are down on supplies because our generous island sent all our extra Hurricane Irma supplies over to Tortola when they were decimated by the first storm. The vast majority of the nation’s rescue operations are focused on Houston and Florida, and those places have been devastated, too. Help is arriving on the main island of Puerto Rico, but not nearly enough to support the 3.8 million residents without power.
Vieques is an island, located off the coast of another island that was also destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Who will help us?
Please do what you can to contribute to the ViequesLove fundraising project – and keep the island’s residents in your prayers. On Monday, we’re hopeful we’ll be able to evacuate a young Puerto Rican cop who is suffering from lung and brain cancer, and was back on Vieques to help his family after Irma. These are the families that need immediate assistance – the community off island will support them to do what is necessary until such a time as the rest of Puerto Rico, and America, remember that we need their help, too.
I’m going to be reporting more on what’s going on with evacuation, relief, and recovery efforts on Vieques Island, and in other parts of Puerto Rico. Please subscribe to the podcast above and follow my website for regular updates while the beautiful “Wedding Island” featured on TLC begins its recovery from the storm.
Check out these aerial photos of the W Hotel Vieques, taken by a Puerto Rico Police pilot doing recon over Vieques a couple of days ago. The entire concrete wall around the resort has collapsed, too.
Please keep Vieques, and all the islands affected by hurricanes, in your thoughts and prayers. And please share this column to help raise awareness of the plight of tiny Vieques. We are #ViequesUSA and we are #ViequesStrong.