Space To Move Forward
Clearing a Path for the Rogers Family to Rebuild
OCTOBER 16, 2018
One year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Onya Rogers’ house is still collapsed into a hill.
“I lost everything. My daughter lost everything. Literally, everything.”
After the Hurricanes destroyed her home, Onya moved to Atlanta. Her twenty-six year-old autistic sister, Tephara, and Onya’s sixty-two year-old aunt, Nell, live in the basement of the fallen home in St. Thomas. Nell is a retired teacher, and she’s thankful for what her family salvaged.
“We have life.”
An estimated sixty residents in the U.S. Virgin Islands died as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria raging through the island–the wind from Irma ripped off roofs, the rain from Maria flooded homes.
“It’s surprising.” Daniel Gayle, the half-brother of Onya and nephew of Nell, grew up playing with Onya at her home. “A year later, a lot of blue roofs. A lot of blue tarps.”
For the past year, Nell wanted to rebuild on the same property where she raised her children. But she needed first to clear away the remains of her home.
Early one Monday in September, the All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response team arrived at Nell’s home ready to bring her one step closer to building back.
For eight days, a team of nine volunteers disassemble the defunct house. They unbolted and lifted, sheet-by-sheet, the caved in metal roof. The team chainsawed rafters that hung above sunken walls. Once the roof and walls were removed, the volunteers cleared away all the beds, furniture, and family possessions that were still buried under the home.
“My daughter lost everything,” Onya said over the phone. “She saved money last summer to buy an American Girl doll. When I told her about the house, that’s the first thing she thought about–her American Girl doll.”
Onya’s Aunt Nell worked alongside the All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response team.
“She was out there everyday with us, helping us pick up debris.” Evan Waller was the team leader on the site. He has volunteered with All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response in St. Thomas for six months. “She made stew for us one day. On our last day, she sent us back with an herb spice mix she had made.”
On the final day of work, Daniel stopped by the site and sent pictures of the house to Onya.
“It was looking good,” Onya said. “I’m so thankful for you guys.”
The All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response St. Thomas project will be open until at least March 2019. Donate or volunteer to help the residents of St. Thomas.
Story and photography by James Cross for All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response