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BRISTOL, Tenn., Nov. 14, 2017 – How would you feel if you were more than 1,600 miles
away from your family watching not one but two hurricanes wreak havoc on your island
home? Tequania Lake (’17), Odessa Sotomayor (’21), Jahmira Rogers (’21), Germaine
LaRonde (’20), and Aneesa~ Hedrington (’20) all came together with King University
Chaplain Dr. Brian Alderman during a service on Oct. 13 in Memorial Chapel to share
their heartfelt stories of how Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the U.S. Virgin
Islands. Their goal was simple – to educate the community about what happened to their
homeland of St. Thomas and share ways people can help.
Their Story: Our Paradise Home Has Been Devastated
Tequania Lake began the service by sharing a slideshow presentation depicting scenes
of destruction on St. Thomas. The island is 32 square miles with approximately 51,000
people who call it home; a few thousand more residents than Bristol TN/VA. Lake began
the slide show with remarkable photos of St. Thomas before Irma and Maria swept through,
then shared a photo from Facebook of a gentleman sitting in what used to be the front
of his house. As the man looked out onto the area below, he described how even though
Hurricane Irma had taken his wall, he now had a great view to better absorb nature.
As her presentation continued, Lake reiterated the survival instincts and strength
of the islanders.
Gasps from the audience could be heard as photos of the damage appeared on the screen.
Their high school is now without a roof. “Families have to stand for hours at a time
just to get inside a grocery store for what little merchandise is available. Officials
estimate the hospitals on both St. Thomas and St. Croix will have to be torn down
and rebuilt because of such tremendous damage,” said Lake.
Lake said that her family is surviving. “They were taught to survive. There was some
flooding and emotional feelings. Some of them are depressed because there is nothing
to wake up to. They’re still on [mandatory] curfew, so they have to be in the house
by 6 [p.m.]; you are in a house in darkness, and there is nothing to do. I think that
is what is affecting them the most right now.
“What made it more difficult for me is that all my mom’s children are in the U.S.
in college, and so she went through this hurricane by herself,” added Lake tearfully.
“It was really hard because – it’s hard knowing that your mom is suffering and there
is nothing you can do.”
The students took turns telling of their families circumstances and of how many of
the houses on the island are built from concrete to withstand strong storms; however,
roofs are gone; walls are missing, and most homes and buildings experienced severe
flooding including their own. Washing is now done from buckets outside, and food is
cooked over make shift fire pits made from concrete blocks. Communication is sparse.
According to The Virgin Islands Consortium, on Nov. 1, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor
Kenneth Mapp revealed that 38 percent of St. Thomas, 19 percent of St. Croix, and
14 percent of St. John had been restored with power.
Students described how having to wait for up to two weeks to receive word from their
families was one of the hardest parts. Sotomayor said, “There was a lot of crying,
a lot, a lot of crying because you are just hoping and wondering if your family is
Rogers spoke of her large family including a number of younger siblings, and how it
took around two weeks to get in contact with them. “Water came under the doors and
through the windows, and eventually, water started coming up through the floor because
the ground was so saturated,” said Rogers.
Sotomayor’s father’s house is completely gone; he now is living out of his jewelry
store. Hedrington was still unsure how her father is doing. However, her mother and
others are having to use rain water collected in cisterns for even the smallest task
such as cooking and bathing. Hedrington said of her mother, “She is a survivor.”
Although the students all call St. Thomas home, they were not close friends – until
the hurricanes blew through the Virgin Islands. Lake said, “When we heard the hurricane
was approaching, we knew it was time to come together.” The five started a group chat
and began praying together every night. They each agreed that good can come out of
difficult times. They bonded and became a strong support system for one another. “Even
though you are going through a storm, you still have to be hopeful, and you have to
be optimistic. Because we are not there, we have to be the light for our parents,”
When asked about their future plans of either staying in the states or going home
to St. Thomas, each student said plans now included going back home to their homeland
and giving back. Rogers, who is studying Psychology at King, said, “I feel like it
is most necessary for me to go back home and help those who may be suffering from
Post-Traumatic Stress or any other mental disorder or illnesses.”
“Making the connections with all these girls, and also seeing that the professors
and students around the school who heard about the disaster – they definitely showed
their concern. They were willing to help with whatever we needed help with,” said
LeRonde. “They showed their concern about it as well and would say they were here
if we needed to talk. That gave us more comfort and faith that we would be ok.”
Aneesa~ Hedrington said, “All I have to say is prayer works. It really does. Prayer
and patience is the key. Don’t take life for granted.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP?
Make a Donation
“We felt as if the best way to support our students affected would be to collect donations
in order to begin healing the damage that couldn’t be undone,” said SGA Vice President
Jess Vargo (‘19).
Host a Student for the Holidays
Each year, there are several students who are not able to travel home for the holidays
– Thanksgiving week and the extended Christmas. This holiday season, the numbers will
be greater as it is unlikely the island students will be able to travel home due to
the devastation. There are several ways you can help.
Contact Suzanne Mullins, assistant dean of Residential Life, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423.652.4743 or Crystal Davidson, international student advisor, at email@example.com or 423.652.4795.
The Simple Things Mean so Much
Prayer is always helpful. Each and every one of the students would appreciate your
“If you see us around, you can stop, and you can give us a hug because more than likely
we need it,” said Tequania Lake.
You can watch the chapel service in its entirety at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IBtlQgFeWQ.
King University is a Presbyterian-affiliated, doctoral-level comprehensive university. Founded in
1867 as King College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional
degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health
sciences, pharmacy, education, and humanities. Graduate programs are offered in business
administration, education, and nursing. A number of research, off-campus learning
opportunities, and travel destinations are also available. King University is a NCAA
Division II and a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity sports. For more information
about King University, visit www.king.edu. King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of
any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability. King University
is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia. For more information on SCHEV
certification, contact the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community
College, 309 College Road, Richlands, VA 24641.