Basketball Star Duncan and Troops Aid Islands Devastated by Irma

(Bloomberg) -- Authorities rushed food, water, medicine and temporary shelter to the US Virgin Islands Monday after Hurricane Irma ripped through the islands, as former NBA star Tim Duncan led a fund-raising campaign.

The U.S. military, relief agencies and businesses brought in supplies and evacuated people from St. John and St. Thomas, two of the three islands that make up the U.S. territory of 110,000. The hurricane caused an estimated $2.5 billion in damage, killing at least four and leaving hundreds homeless.  

“They lose housing, electricity, basic goods that we take for granted here,” Duncan said in a phone interview Monday. “There are a lot of people in need.”

Irma caused about $13 billion in destruction across the Caribbean before it hit the U.S., according to an estimate from the Germany-based Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology, a damage assessor, which would make it the most expensive storm in the region’s history. Irma was a category 5 hurricane when it hit the Virgin islands, then slowed before it made landfall in Florida.

Duncan, who was raised on the island of St. Croix, donated $250,000 as part of a relief campaign that had raised more than $1.2 million as of Monday morning. The former San Antonio Spurs player said he’ll use the funds to buy basics such as food and backup generators. He said he plans to travel to the islands this week, and will continue fundraising when the immediate emergency is over to help finance the rebuilding effort.

There have been isolated cases of theft, but reports of widespread looting and disorder are exaggerated, said Master Sgt. Karen Williams, a spokeswoman for the Virgin Islands National Guard, which was reinforced by Guard deployments from nearby islands.

Families are taking in neighbors whose homes were destroyed, while others work to help clear roads and look for survivors trapped in rubble, said David Adams, a local man who was on St. John when Irma hit.

“Roofs are blown off everywhere, the roads are impassable,” said Adams. “It’s total destruction.”

President Donald Trump authorized federal funding to pay for most of the debris removal and emergency protective measures. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. sent empty ships to St. Thomas and nearby Saint Maarten to help evacuate people.