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The US Virgin Islands are struggling to recover from the storms, too

Dakin Andone and Cassandra Santiago, CNN | 9/30/2017, 8:09 p.m.
Do Re Mi Daycare on St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands has been serving students for 20 years.
Tabitha Jarrell took these photos of the damage around her condo in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Thursday, September 28, 2017. Jarrell had several inches of water in the apartment and water was running down from the ceiling and the walls. Tabitha Jarrell/CNN iReport

(CNN) -- Do Re Mi Daycare on St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands has been serving students for 20 years.

But last week, Hurricane Maria threatened everything that Naima Poleon's family had worked for. Poleon, who took over the daycare this year so her mother could retire, ventured out after the storm to find large parts of the roof were gone. Water damage inside was extensive.

"I really didn't have any words for it," she said. "It was just shock. Just seeing everything my mom had worked for for 20 years ... was gone in 24 hours."

"It was devastating."

Like many residents in the US Virgin Islands, Poleon is trying to pick up the pieces of her life left by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Both hurricanes were Category 5 storms when they hit, and both decimated the islands, within two weeks of each other.

Irma knocked out the electricity for the islands of St. John and St. Thomas, while St. Croix was mercifully spared. But two weeks later, just as the the three islands that make up the US territory were recovering, Maria came back with a vengeance and devastated the power grid.

The islands are still reeling. Many residents are without shelter, power or communication. Schools are still closed and debris still litters the street, hindering the transportation of resources and personnel.

The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico grips the country, but the destruction from the storms was widespread, and the US Virgin Islands are facing their own lengthy recovery.

Many left without shelter

Don Caetano, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN a big challenge for the recovery effort is simply getting supplies and personnel to places that need them.

"You get the commodities in," Caetano said, "but you need the people to get the commodities where they need to go." There's still debris blocking roadways, he said, complicating the transportation of resources and personnel.

Many of the more than 100,000 residents who live in the islands have been left without a place to stay after the storms destroyed their homes.

"A lot of people are without roofs or with partial roofs," said Samuel Topp, spokesman for the US Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp. "This is, of course, one of the priorities."

FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers are proving residents with blue tarpaulin and other materials as part of Operation Blue Roof, Topp said, so some can live in their homes as a temporary solution.

According to FEMA, as of Thursday there were seven shelters throughout the islands housing 396 residents. That number is steadily declining, Topp said.

The full extent of the damage, Topp said, is "continuing to be assessed," but he recognizes they're not out of the woods yet.

"This is still hurricane season," he added. "Anything could happen and a lot of people are exposed."

Power, running water slowly returning

Julio Rhymer, executive director for the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA), recognizes that Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, are struggling from being hit by the hurricanes, but he wants "to make sure the Virgin Islands doesn't get forgotten in the restoration process."