The recent string of hurricanes has been out of the news cycle for a while now, but there are still those grappling with the effects of these devastating storms. In Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, the death toll from Hurricane Maria has risen to 51, according to the Associated Press. This is because more than two-thirds of the island is still without clean water, and a third remain without power.

The effects of these storms can sometimes feel far away, but there are those in our own town who are still facing the consequences of this hurricane. Keene State College Athletic Director Kristene Kelly was born and raised in Saint Croix, a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Kelly said people often forget about the U.S. Virgin Islands, and they desperately need help. Hurricane Maria nearly destroyed Kelly’s childhood home as it swept over the island.  Luckily, no one on Saint Croix was killed by the storm, but Kelly said her mother’s house no longer has a roof, the windows are shattered and water has invaded the home completely.

Kelly said her mother had to be evacuated from the island because she was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and pneumonia the day before the hurricane hit. She was evacuated via Mercy Flight to Atlanta. Kelly said her sister was forced to call her two days after the storm hit from the “non-existent roof of [her] mother’s house,” because cell service is so poor on the island. Her sister was also forced to withdraw from classes she was taking to get her master’s degree online.

Kelly said power is expected to be out on the island until Christmas, and Kelly said her family has been having to take “bucket-baths.” Kelly said she was overwhelmed by people asking how they can help when they found out about the plight of her family. She has started a small drive for essential materials, such as flashlights, food, water and hygiene supplies, that she plans to send to her sister.  Kelly joked, however, that she knew “all the stuff my sister’s going to get she’s going to give to other people.”

Isabell Wilson Soto is a student at KSC and a former resident of Saint Croix. She has been waiting to get into contact with her most of her family since the storms. Wilson Soto said she has gotten into contact with her sister and knows she is okay, but is still waiting to hear from her father and brother.

Wilsom Soto says her grandparent’s houses are totaled, much like Kelly’s family.  She said it’s been hard not being able to call anyone to check on them, but knows she must focus on her schoolwork. She said knowing her family would want her to succeed in school has “pushed her harder than anything else.

Food, water and other necessities, Wilson Soto said, is the biggest way people can help right now. She said the Virgin Islands need all the aid they can get to help rebuild from the storms. Wilson Soto and Kelly both said that people often forget about the Virgin Islands, and they want to remind people that they are U.S. territories, and they need help.

Kelly said she was in the process of organizing a possible trip or aid drive to Saint Croix through the Office of Student Involvement in hopes of providing some of the much-needed relief to  hard-hit families. The Office of Student Involvement declined to comment for this article.

Simon Burch can be contacted at

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