As St. Thomas slowly regains services after Irma, residents decide whether to rebuild

The island of St. Thomas was among the group of islands worst hit by Hurricane Irma and now residents are faced with recovering from the devastation, or in some cases, deciding that it might not in their best interest to rebuild.

Some, like Pastor Jeff Neezel and members of his congregation, are working to salvage the many ravaged homes and try to rebuild.

Others, like Kacie Marano, decided that it was safest to leave the island after the storm hit and are now weighing whether to return home.

All agree that the devastation that Hurricane Irma left in its wake was worse than they could have imagined.

“There’s not a leaf left on a tree,” Neezel told ABC News. “It looks like a deserted planet.”

Marano has had a long relationship with the U.S. Virgin Islands, but now she is grappling with the question of whether to ever return. She went to high school in neighboring St. Croix and has lived on St. Thomas for the last three years working for a contracting firm affiliated with USAID on agriculture projects for the U.S. government.

Courtesy Kacie Marano
Kacie Marano is pictured in New York on Sept. 11, 2017 after weathering Hurricane Irma in a bunker in St. Thomas.

On Tuesday before the storm hit, she said she and her colleagues “cleaned out our desks and put garbage bags on everything. We knew it was going to be bad.”

From there, she went to her apartment, which is the top, wooden floor of a building.

“I’m a single female living in a house that is not my own and I’m lucky that I know what a Phillips screwdriver is,” she said about her efforts to board up her house.

She packed up a waterproof backpack with important documents, three days-worth of workout clothes, underwear and three meaningful photos of her deceased father and grandmother.

She then left to stay with friends who have a secure lower alcove in their house, which they thought would be a safe place to ride out the storm.

Courtesy Kacie Marano
Kacie Marano stayed in this makeshift bunker at her friends’ house in St. Thomas to ride out Hurricane Irma.

When she called her neighbor after the storm hit a day later, she said that he told her half of her roof had blown away.

“Only half of it came off. It was over my bedroom, so I’m assuming that pretty much everything is gone,” she said. “But I don’t know that for sure.”

“I think my washer and dryer is in their shower,” she said.

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