We asked American country music star and part-time U.S. Virgin Island resident, Kenny Chesney, what lessons he has learned one year after the hurricanes wreaked havoc across the Caribbean.
How many people can say they’ve lived through two category 5+ hurricanes within two weeks? Would you know what to do if you suddenly lost your electricity, Internet, TV, cell phone coverage, landline, ATMs and roads? And your home got destroyed too. Additionally, what if you had no idea how many months this would last, or if anyone was coming to help. Chesney remembers the chaos well, and shared with us his impressions of that time and why he felt compelled to help.
What compelled you to take action to help St. John?
Knowing how many people’s lives were profoundly changed. From watching the weather channel and texts from friends, you knew it was bad. Knowing people’s lives were being torn away from them, people I knew… people whose names I might know, others by face only. When you think about that you have to get involved.
What are some of the most impactful memories?
When I was on the island for the first few times after the storms, and seeing all the trees and brush just gone, seeing boats thrown up on land, houses that were nothing but a few bits of foundation or a piece of wall. You’re not prepared to see some place as lush and as happy-looking as the Saints, look like that. There was a look of exhaustion, confusion and sadness on the faces of people who we flew off island. There was a look in their eyes that I’d never seen before. It still haunts me – the restlessness of the people with nowhere to go. On the other hand, the people who remained and got stuck in to rebuilding were so happy.
What did you learn from dealing with this disaster, that other people might learn from?
Patience. There was urgency, and everyone’s going as fast as they can, but you can never go fast enough. You want to cut through red tape, but that’s not always gonna work. You have to figure out how to be effective and not get bogged down.
What was the greatest challenge in helping those affected by the hurricanes?
The fact that the whole island was basically wiped out. We were starting over. There was no power, we needed generators, medical supplies, tools, tarps, water and food, whatever was needed. For a while getting planes in and out of St. Thomas was tricky, but it was the only way to get supplies in.
What inspired you the most during the relief?
The people. The way they came together. Islands are like a small town; people have opinions and disagreements. When Irma hit, that was all gone. Residents had survived the storms, and they put everything else aside. They knew what was important: rebuilding their island, and they were all doing what they could. It was awesome.
Kenny Chesney’s Love For Love City Fund supports and gives to local and national 501c3 charities aligned with their mission of getting relief where it’s needed, immediately and ongoing in the Virgin Islands. They are people who dig in when needed, give when they see struggle and seek to find the best ways to make a difference. Every little bit helps. Sales from his new album “Song For The Saints,” Featuring “Get Along” will help benefit the ongoing relief in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.