Planes flew prepackaged meals, ice and other supplies into St. Thomas by the ton Monday, part of an effort to relieve residents whose lives and homes were jolted by Hurricane Marilyn.
C-130 military cargo planes thundered onto the airstrip at St. Thomas, beginning the full relief effort six years to the day after Hurricane Hugo ravaged the Caribbean. The island's 51,000 residents lost water, electricity and telephone service when Marilyn struck Saturday.
National Guard troops and police directed traffic in Charlotte Amalie, the islands' capital, where long lines formed at gasoline stations. The drive from the airport to the resort of Frenchman's Reef, normally a 15-minute trip, took 45 minutes Monday.
In the interior, workers cleared roads of power lines and utility poles. A radio station was set up so residents could leave messages for loved ones.
Residents tried to regroup.
Stacey J. Fredericks sifted through the debris of her home, salvaging clothes she hung on lines stretched across her yard. She pointed to a pile of rubble with a refrigerator and dishwasher protruding.
"We live here--or we did," she said.
Her sister, Donnise Fredericks-North, said the cleanup helped keep her mind off their trouble. "All this stuff we're trying to save keeps us busy. But if you stop and start thinking about that night . . . you just don't want to do that."
The number of victims wasn't immediately known. Authorities reported that three to six people were killed on St. Thomas, while a hospital worker on St. Croix reported two storm-related deaths there. One person died on St. John. The three islands make up the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands. Two people also died on Puerto Rico.
Monday's airlift included 300,000 prepackaged military meals, drinking water and ice, said James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"This is a massive response and has taken a combination of everything we have as a federal team to make this happen," Witt said at a briefing in St. Thomas.
Three distribution centers could open to the public as soon as today, Witt said. Up to 80% of the homes on St. Thomas were damaged or destroyed, FEMA said.
A tropical storm watch was issued for Bermuda on Monday as Marilyn moved north through the Atlantic, well east of the mainland.
About 100 U.S. marshals arrived in St. Thomas to help stop sporadic looting, and FBI agents were deputized as marshals to reinforce police work, Witt said. Authorities requested the help to prevent the kind of extensive looting that St. Croix suffered after Hugo in September, 1989.
Armored personnel carriers patrolled the streets, and no further looting was reported.
Three barges, each carrying 50,000 gallons of drinking water, were en route from Puerto Rico to St. Croix and St. Thomas, and federal agencies were preparing to ship 1 million pounds of food to the islands.
Reports from St. John indicated 20% of the buildings sustained some damage, FEMA said.
Twenty percent of the buildings on St. Croix had some damage, said FEMA spokesman Mark Wilson. Power was out, but the local telephone system was intact.