Hurricane Irma survivors in Caribbean fear they will be forgotten after 'apocalyptic' storm

Hurricane Irma survivors on the hardest-hit islands in the Caribbean fear they will be forgotten after the storm left "apocalyptic" destruction in its wake, wiping out homes and leaving many residents desperate and without electricity, running water and food.

"It's complete devastation. There's no power or water. Basically almost everything got demolished," Shelby Alfred, a nurse in Cruz Bay, on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, told NBC News on Tuesday. "Everything is pretty much gone."

Alfred, 27, said the Red Cross was sheltering homeless survivors at a school where the roof partly collapsed.

"There's no air conditioning, no water, just cots pushed up against each other with tons of people in them — mostly people that lost their homes," she said.

RELATED: Most striking photos from Irma

13 PHOTOS
The most striking images of Hurricane Irma shared on the web
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The most striking images of Hurricane Irma shared on the web
A drive through the streets of Barbuda. The damage is truly horrendous https://t.co/WuBBEcQce7
Now DL302 has to climb out of SJU, and they're doing so between the outer band of #Irma and the core of the storn.… https://t.co/BCVFu9HRbV
The outer wall of eye, #hurricaneirma hitting #marcoisland (3pm, 9/10/17) #winknews #weatherchannel #swfl… https://t.co/I3OJXc5LLY
A beached manatee as Hurricane Irma sucks water out of Sarasota Bay from viewer Billie Brown. #TrackingIrma https://t.co/CJhbRdlmfE
Flooded streets and a loose sailboat! #irma #miami #hurricane #hurricaneirma
WOW! Look at these pictures of Brickell Ave. in downtown Miami. INSANE! Please be safe. #HurricaneIrma #Miami… https://t.co/AREgiApO0Z
UNREAL: Look at the pier at Fort Myers Beach right now #TrackingIrma #HurricaneIrma #SWFL Credit: Jody Drovdlic https://t.co/IekdcJmYre
WATCH: High winds and severe flooding near Waterfront Park in downtown Charleston, South Carolina (Via Patrick Spo… https://t.co/8N40ytEfw0
Cleanup has started in Miami after #hurricaneirma.
Our beach after Irma #irma #hurricane #hurricaneirma #afterirma #fisherisland #luxurylifestyle #luxuryrealestate #luxurylife #island #islandlife #islandliving #hurricane #miami #brickell #miamibeach #ураган #ураганирма #майами @socialite_magazine
Hurricane Irma Turns Caribbean Islands Brown https://t.co/CIOrCeYzfG #NASA https://t.co/tqkwXVCTrJ
Via Suomi NPP, what the power situation was like overnight in S. Flo (top) vs a Normal night (bottom) https://t.co/dW7aWOApCg
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Residents in neighboring St. Thomas fear that food supplies could run low before new stocks come in. With so much damage to the island, they are only now starting to understand what exactly was lost — and what remains.

Many residents who have places to stay in the continental U.S. are leaving the islands, including Kurt Nose's wife and daughter, who plan to head to their second home in Connecticut on Thursday. Nose will stay on the island with his father-in-law to repair their roofs, which were blown off during the storm.

"Gas and diesel are starting to run out," said Nose, who was born in Ohio and moved to St. Thomas when he was 15.

"Fresh drinking water is starting to get scarce," he added. "How long the food we have here will last and how quickly they can get food in here is a question."

In the meantime, they've boxed up and put their few undamaged belongings into storage.

"We are concerned about people taking things," Nose said. "We lost most of our belongings. We tried to gather up mementos and save what we could."

RELATED: Irma's destruction in the Dominican Republic

27 PHOTOS
Irma's destruction in the Dominican Republic
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Irma's destruction in the Dominican Republic
A damaged house is pictured as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A police vehicle passes a fallen power pole as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
Locals stand next to a damaged road as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A man walks among debris as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A local stands next to a damaged house as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
Locals gather near debris as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
Locals ride their bikes among debris on a beach as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A person walks through a flooded street as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Locals walk past a fallen stadium lighting tower as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
A local stands next to a fallen roof as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Locals remove pieces from a fallen stadium lighting tower as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Locals walk past a fallen stadium lighting tower as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Waves crash against the shore as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
People walk past debris as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A woman stands in the rain as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A person walks through a flooded street as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
A man secures boats as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
A man stands outside the remains of his house as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A man walks among debris as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A woman walks through a flooded street as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
People look at what is left of their home as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
People walk on a street covered in debris as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A man packs a bag with clothes he recovered from his damaged home as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
People look at what is left of their home as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
Men walk past a destroyed house as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas
A man looks out to the flooded street as Hurricane Irma moves off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
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PHOTOS: Irma Brings Chaos and Despair to Caribbean

Conn Davis, a St. Thomas-born developer, worried about looting and said he had locked down his home "like a bunker."

He added: "I'm armed 24/7 with an assault weapon and handgun."

Davis, 33, said he and other people in St. Thomas used chainsaws to clear roads, assisted federal workers and tried to procure boats for evacuations and supplies.

"The island has been totally destroyed. It looks like a bomb went off everywhere," he said.

At least 54 people across the Caribbean and the southeastern United States were killed by Irma, which at its peak was a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest on the National Hurricane Center’s wind scale. The storm wreaked havoc across Barbuda, St. Maarten/St. Martin, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Cuba before turning its eye on Florida.

Alfred said many on the island were afraid that the Caribbean region would be forgotten when it most desperately needed resources and federal assistance simply "because the storm has moved on."

Related: Irma Leaves a Trail of Destruction and Broken Records

But President Emmanuel Macron of France, which governs several of the islands in the Caribbean, promised that wouldn't be the case.

RELATED: Irma's destruction in Saint Martin

19 PHOTOS
Irma's destruction in Saint Martin
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Irma's destruction in Saint Martin
Boats wrecked by Hurricane Irma are seen from a plane in Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Buildings damaged by Hurricane Irma are seen in Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A house and a building damaged by Hurricane Irma are seen in Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People line up to board a plane and leave the island after it was devastated by Hurricane Irma, in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People sit aboard a plane to leave the island after it was devastated by Hurricane Irma, in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A woman reacts as she stands with others in line to board a plane and leave the island after it was devastated by Hurricane Irma, in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Houses destroyed by Hurricane Irma are seen next to a runway in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Dutch king Willem-Alexander (2R) and Minister of Internal Affairs Ronald Plasterk (2L) visit on September 11, 2017, at Filipsburg on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten) after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. France, the Netherlands and Britain on September 7 sent water, emergency rations and rescue teams to their stricken territories in the Caribbean hit by Hurricane Irma, which has killed at least 10 people. The worst-affected island so far is Saint Martin, which is divided between the Netherlands and France, where eight of the 10 confirmed deaths took place. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Vincent Jannink / Netherlands OUT (Photo credit should read VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This handout photograph provided courtesy of the Dutch Department of Defense on September 8, 2017 shows Royal Navy personnel distributing supplies for victims of Hurricane Irma on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma killed two people and wounded 43 others when it barrelled through the Dutch part of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, a Dutch official said September 8. / AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY / GERBEN VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
Dutch king Willem-Alexander (R) and minister of Internal Affairs Ronald Plasterk (L) visits Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten on September 11, 2017 after hurricane Irma destroyed the island. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Vincent Jannink / Netherlands OUT (Photo credit should read VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This handout photograph provided courtesy of the Dutch Department of Defense on September 8, 2017 shows a man looking on over the devastion of Hurricane Irma on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma killed two people and wounded 43 others when it barrelled through the Dutch part of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, a Dutch official said September 8. / AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY / GERBEN VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
This handout photograph provided courtesy of the Dutch Department of Defense on September 8, 2017 shows people passing supplies during recovery efforts following the devastion of Hurricane Irma on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma killed two people and wounded 43 others when it barrelled through the Dutch part of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, a Dutch official said September 8. / AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY / GERBEN VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
This handout photograph provided courtesy of the Dutch Department of Defense on September 7, 2017 shows houses and cars damaged after the passage of Hurricane Irma on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma, rampaging across the Caribbean, has produced sustained winds at 295 kilometres per hour (183 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France's weather service said on September 7. / AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY / GERBEN VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma, rampaging across the Caribbean, has produced sustained winds at 295 kilometres per hour (183 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France's weather service said on September 7. / AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY AND AFP PHOTO / GERBEN VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma, rampaging across the Caribbean, has produced sustained winds at 295 kilometres per hour (183 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France's weather service said on September 7. / AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY AND AFP PHOTO / GERBEN VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma, rampaging across the Caribbean, has produced sustained winds at 295 kilometres per hour (183 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded, France's weather service said on September 7. / AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY / GERBEN VAN ES / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Hurricane Irma sowed a trail of deadly devastation through the Caribbean on Wednesday, reducing to rubble the tropical islands of Barbuda and St Martin. / AFP PHOTO / ANP / Gerben van Es / Netherlands OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / DUTCH DEFENSE MINISTRY/GERBEN VAN ES' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO ARCHIVES - NO SALE- DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read GERBEN VAN ES/AFP/Getty Images)
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Macron arrived on St. Martin on Tuesday afternoon, touring streets littered with debris, surveying destroyed buildings and promising residents a quick recovery, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier, Macron and three of his Cabinet ministers stopped on Guadeloupe, where he called Irma "a natural catastrophe not seen in the region since 1931," when what would now be classified as a Category 4 hurricane killed at least 2,500 people in Belize.

"This is unseen, and we cannot compare it to another known weather event in the last decades," Macron said, asserting that France had mobilized "one of the biggest air bridges [of relief] since the Second World War."

Of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John was hit hardest. Kelly Quinn, a boat captain who lived on Great Cruz Bay in St. John, said she and her husband braved 15-foot waves from the storm 160 miles out at sea, away from Irma's path, rather than risk a direct hit on their vessel.

When they returned, they found St. John in an "apocalyptic state," said Quinn, 44.

"It was such a macabre scene pulling in there and seeing people with their heads in their hands having lost everything," she said.

RELATED: The worst of Hurricane Irma's destruction

15 PHOTOS
The worst of Hurricane Irma's destruction
See Gallery
The worst of Hurricane Irma's destruction
A destroyed trailer park is seen after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida, in Plantation Key in the Florida Keys, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
An uprooted tree that slashed a trailer in half in the wake of Hurricane Irma is pictured at a mobile home park in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Gregg Newton
Storm damage is seen from the air after hurricane Irma passed Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, September 11, 2017. Picture taken September 11, 2017. Captain George Eatwell RM/Ministry of Defence handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Boats wrecked by Hurricane Irma are seen from a plane in Sint Maarten, Netherlands September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Waves crash at the seafront Malecon seen from a damaged restaurant after Hurricane Irma caused flooding and a blackout, in Havana, Cuba September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
SAINT MARTIN - SEPTEMBER 11: Hurricane damage on the island of Saint Martin after the passage of the hurricane IRMA through the Caribbean Islands on September 11, 2017 in the French island of Saint Martin. (Photo by Aurelien Morissard/IP3/Getty Images)
MARCO ISLAND, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: An office with the roof missing is seen after Hurricane Irma passed in Marco Island, Fla. on Monday, Sept 11, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PHILIPSBURG, ST MAARTEN - SEPTEMBER 11: Franklin Sosa from San Pedro Macoris, Dominican Republic, walks past a split palm tree on September 11, 2017 in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. The Caribbean island sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
NAPLES, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: A man walks through a flooded street in a rural part of Naples the morning after Hurricane Irma swept through the area on September 11, 2017 in Naples, Florida. Hurricane Irma made another landfall near Naples yesterday after inundating the Florida Keys. Electricity was out in much of the region with extensive flooding. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
EAST NAPLES, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: A home is shown damaged after Hurricane Irma hit the area on September 11, 2017 in East Naples, Florida. Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm on Sunday, lashing the state with 130 mph winds as it moved up the coast. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Housing insulation is seen floating in flood water in a mobile housing park after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Naples, Florida, U.S. September 11, 2017 REUTERS/Stephen Yang
A bedroom is seen in a mobile housing park after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Naples, Florida, U.S. September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: Justin Hand navigates storm surge flood waters from Hurricane Irma along the St. Johns River on Sept. 11, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. Flooding in downtown Jacksonville along the river topped a record set during Hurricane Dora in 1965. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: The St. Johns River rises from storm surge flood waters from Hurricane Irma on Sept. 11, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. Flooding in downtown Jacksonville along the river topped a record set during Hurricane Dora in 1965. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
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"I would say 3 out of every 5 buildings has its roof ripped off. There are no wooden houses standing anymore," she said. "Only the concrete ones survived, and [on] concrete ones with wooden roofs, the roofs are gone."

Much of the island lacks cell service, and Quinn said she began to send more than a hundred messages using her VHF radio and satellite from people who had no way to let their loved ones know they were safe.

Quinn said she got out a notebook and a pen and wrote out the names, phone numbers and a basic message to survivors' families stateside. Soon, she was inundated with grateful messages from strangers.

"It's just heart-wrenching, because it was truly the only way that they knew their family members were still alive," she said.

'It's Like an Alien Universe'

Nearly a week after the storm, survivors were still only starting to pick up the pieces.

Laura Dixon Strickling, 36, said she rode out Irma in the basement apartment of her house near Hull Bay in St. Thomas with her husband, her best friend and her husband, and the couples' 1-year-old children.

She said the group barricaded themselves in a bedroom. Then, with the mattress pressed up against the door, the cement dwelling began to shake.

The house did not sustain heavy damage, she said, but when she emerged after the storm, the island was unrecognizable.

"It was insane. The green island we knew was gone — it's all brown. All the trees are bent in half. It's like an alien universe, and it's going to take a lot of work to rebuild," she said.

"It's going to be a long time before any of us aren't afraid of the wind anymore," she said.

Dixon Strickling managed to evacuate with her family to Puerto Rico with the help of some volunteers, but said she worried about what would happen her friends and neighbors still back on St. Thomas.

"We are U.S. citizens, and the U.S. government needs to come and help. They need to send a visible force to make people feel safe so they don't do desperate things," she said.

The Defense Department said Tuesday that about 4,600 service members were supporting relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. And the Coast Guard said Tuesday that it was working with partner agencies to send aid and supplies to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But U.S. officials said at a news conference that "communications is also an issue, particularly down in the Virgin Islands."

Residents of both St. John and St. Thomas described ordinary people clearing roads, helping rebuild, giving supplies to their neighbors most in need and using their own boats to evacuate others.

In St. John, Alfred, the nurse, said people were donating their own diesel fuel to keep power running at the damaged hospital.

And in St. Thomas, Jenny Hawkes, executive director of the nonprofit My Brother's Workshop, said the agency and volunteers were giving out food to hundreds of people over the last few days through donations from the organization, the Salvation Army, private entities and even local restaurants.

Hawkes, 32, the mother of two children, said she lost her apartment but was focusing on relief efforts.

"We immediately said we'll start the feeding program the very next day," she said.

Related: How to Help Hurricane Irma Victims

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. military were helping to rescue people blocked in their homes by debris after residents cleared the roads of fallen trees, according to Davis, who said he helped organize such efforts.

Davis, the St. Thomas-born developer, added that he and a few friends had been traveling back and forth to provide food and other relief to hundreds of people in the British Virgin Islands.

"We heard there were starving in [the island of] Jost Van Dyke and that nobody had gotten to them yet," he said. "We needed to get to them, because nobody was taking care of them."

While he had seen a big U.S. federal presence on St. Thomas, Davis said he believed the local government was not doing nearly enough.

"The islands are in real duress and need help, and it's not getting done by our local government. There are a lot of people out here working hard, but we need people to help us help ourselves," he said.

A representative of the U.S. Virgin Islands government did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday, but officials said in a statement that Gov. Kenneth Mapp had asked FEMA for "immediate help" in getting ice and large tarps on the ground.

CORRECTION (Sept. 13, 2017, 9:00 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Belize. It is a coastal country in Central America, not an island.

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