Bethel Couple Plans Relief Mission To Island Devastated By Hurricane Maria

Oct 3, 2017

Tom McCallson and Shana Silcott are flying to the US Virgin Islands tomorrow, to help as many people as they can.
Credit Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK

Until a few weeks ago, Shana Silcott had talked to her mother every day of her life. Shana grew up on St. Croix, the largest hub in the Virgin Islands’ green archipelago. And when she moved to the mainland a few years ago, her mother was worried.

"When you live in the island and watch the news, it’s so frightening, what happens in the Lower 48," said Silcott with a laugh. "So she calls me every day!"

Silcott moved to Bethel two years ago and met her boyfriend, Tom McCallson. They both love the community here and as the couple built their lives together, Silcott's mother still called her every day. This month, the plan was for Silcott to make her first trip back home since she moved away and introduce McCallson to her family. 

Hurricane Irma narrowly missed St. Croix in September, but then, about two weeks ago, Hurricane Maria struck - one of the strongest storms in recorded history. The winds flattened homes, the storm surges flooded the beaches, and when the hurricane was over, Silcott's mother didn’t call her.

"I’ve talked to my mom about her passing away and how we’re gonna deal with that," Silcott said. "But being grown and planning funerals is different from not knowing if she’s okay, and that she’s actually alive. That her heart is beating."

Ten days after Hurricane Maria, the call finally came. Silcott's mother is okay. Her roof was blown off and she’s running low on food and water, but she says that she can’t wait to see Silcott again. So Silcott and McCallson's trip is still on. And while they're in St. Croix, they're going to do everything they can to help rebuild.

Like the millions of people in Puerto Rico, the residents of the Virgin Islands are U.S. citizens in desperate need of help. According to Silcott and McCallson, 70 percent of the homes on St. Croix lost their roofs in the storm. There’s no power and only one working cell tower on the island, which can take hours for people to connect to. Families wait in line for hours to get into the grocery store, just to find the shelves empty.

The relief effort is struggling. When it was spared by Hurricane Irma, St. Croix stepped in to help its neighbors. "They gave everything they had," said McCallson. And now, they're short on emergency supplies.

Silcott and McCallson are flying to the island with as much food as they can carry. "I want to be able to hand something to someone every time I see someone," Silcott said. "I don’t care if it’s a bag of flour, a bag of rice; it's going to be something that’s going to last them at least a few days."

The couple is also traveling with solar-powered lights, lamps and fans. McCallson has lived off the grid for nearly 20 years and understands how to jury-rig wind and solar systems. The plan is to spend three weeks on St. Croix and then to re-supply in Florida, where Silcott and McCallson will buy as much as they can afford for Silcott's community.

Silcott and McCallson say that Yukon Kuskokwim Delta residents can help by donating to their new Wells Fargo account, which they opened to coordinate relief efforts. The account number is 1579231661. All donations should be made by October 28th.

Silcott and McCallson leave Bethel tomorrow. Silcott said that she's trying to stay calm and pray. She's bringing a satellite phone with her so that St. Croix residents can finally call their anxious loved ones on the mainland. With the breakdown of the island's infrastructure, hundreds of people are still unaccounted for. Silcott's mother is the only person she's heard from back home.

"I haven’t heard from my dad, or my grandfather, or many of my friends," she said. "The hardest part is not knowing. I’m just trying to do what I can."