Declaring that “time is of the essence,” Tim Duncan asked for help for his native U.S. Virgin Islands in an essay published Friday by The Players’ Tribune. The 41-year-old former San Antonio Spur pledged to match donations up to $1 million and said he had already contributed $250,000 to aid the hurricane-ravaged territory.
Hurricane Irma has wreaked a path of massive devastation through the Caribbean, en route to an expected landfall in Florida late Saturday or Sunday. While dire predictions of the storm’s destructive power in that state, as well as parts further north, have dominated the news in the U.S., Duncan and others have begun pleading for their already hard-hit part of the country not to be forgotten.
“Right now as I type this, the U.S. Virgin Islands — the place where I was born and where I grew up — has been badly damaged by Hurricane Irma,” Duncan wrote. “The people there, many of whom are old friends of mine, are suffering. Weather reports say that another Category 5 storm, Hurricane Jose, is close behind. No one knows what the place will look like when the rain stops.”
Duncan, who retired last year after a 19-year career in which he won five NBA titles and two MVP awards with the San Antonio Spurs, earned a reputation as the quietest, most self-effacing superstar of his day, and he began his essay in trademark fashion. The first paragraph read: “Hey, it’s Tim.”
Duncan went on to recount his own firsthand experience with the enormous damage Hurricane Hugo inflicted on the Virgin Islands in 1989, when he was 13. From his essay:
“Hugo hit at night. The first thing I remember is a loud boom from the windows blowing out of our house. My mother and sister burst into my bedroom and led me by the hand into another room. We spent the rest of the night sitting in a small bathroom, our eyes wide open. None of us could sleep. We heard the bangs and booms of debris. Once in a while, I’d peek down the hallway at my dad, who was watching our ceiling. One of the beams had a crack in it, and the crack slowly grew bigger throughout the night. I think my dad was praying. …
“Hugo crippled the economy. People lost their businesses. Food prices went way, way up. For the next six months, parts of the island didn’t have power, and school was canceled for almost two months. We had to boil water to drink or cook. I got good at showering with a bucket. Without electricity, we had to get crafty to keep food and drinks cold. I remember tying ropes to jugs of milk or orange juice and then lowering them down into a cistern, which collects rainwater. The water was a lot cooler in there. I learned to adapt, like everyone else.”
The lesson Duncan learned from his experience, he said, was “how important it is to get relief and to get it quickly — and how easily a small island can be forgotten.” He added, “I can’t let that happen again.”
Duncan is not the only one sounding an alarm for the territory, which the U.S. purchased from Denmark in 1917. Jenn Manes, who blogs about news from the island of St. John, wrote on Facebook (via the AP), “The United States Virgin Islands is just that — part of the United States. But right now, no one up north seems to remember that.”
“So why the desperate plea? People who I love so very much no longer have homes,” she continued. “They do not have possessions. Everything is gone. And it’s not just one or two people, it’s a lot.”
“Right now, thousands of people are reeling with trauma from of the most catastrophic storms ever to strike the Caribbean region. Hurricane Irma has toppled buildings and leveled many homes,” Rep. Stacey Plaskett, the Virgin Islands’ delegate to Congress, wrote on Facebook. “Making the Virgin Islands whole will require a massive and coordinated effort spanning the course of many months, and indeed years.”
Duncan requested that those interested in making a monetary donation go to a web page for a U.S. Virgin Island Relief Fund that he organized. He also said that he would accept material goods, and was chartering a plane to take supplies next week from San Antonio to the island of St. Croix.
“The news of the storm may fade from the headlines, but there are still real people there — good people — who need your goodwill, and who will never forget your generosity,” he wrote.
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