Reports that looters were acting with impunity circulated on social media, and one broadly-shared story about guns being stolen from a Customs building in St. John was quickly denied by the authorities. But the situation was not helped by the fact that 70 percent of the island’s police force had their homes damaged or destroyed, according to the governor.
Denise Obaggy, 47, who has lived on St. John for six years and was on the island when Irma hit, said she had seen shops — including a jewelry store — that had been looted, and ATMs that had been stolen.
“There are homeless people directing traffic,” she said. “Where are the police? The police aren’t doing anything.”
Still, there were signs Monday of a massive government and private relief effort lurching into action. The United States military deployed an aircraft carrier off St. Croix as a staging ship for aid to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as well as to St. Martin and other devastated foreign territories, said Thomas P. Bossert, President Trump’s homeland security adviser, at a White House briefing Monday afternoon.
At a news conference, Mr. Mapp, the governor, said Mr. Trump had told him he “loves the Virgin Islands” and would visit over the next six or seven days “to see firsthand the damages.”
Nearly 5,000 American service members were being sent to the islands, including 600 marines who arrived on St. Thomas on Monday.
Throughout the day, helicopters delivered supplies by air and the Coast Guard by boat. The federal Health Department was taking more than 100 dialysis patients to Puerto Rico.
The effort was amplified by private ferries and volunteers who took residents who wanted to leave to St. Croix, which received less damage, or Puerto Rico. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian were sending cruise ships with supplies — bags of ice and tarps were in particular demand — and to take stranded tourists out.
About 300 people were staying in five Red Cross shelters, the organization said.
But how well the islands, which have about 100,000 full-time residents, would be able to manage a long-term relief effort was unclear.
Purchased by the United States 100 years ago from Denmark for $25 million in gold, the islands have long been buoyed by tourism. But the closing of a large oil refinery several years ago wiped out a large piece of the Virgin Islands’ tax base, contributing to a debt crisis similar to that of Puerto Rico, its larger Caribbean neighbor. For years the islands borrowed from its catastrophe insurance fund to meet other demands.
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