Matt Atkinson had left his home in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, to visit family and friends in Connecticut and New York, and to celebrate his 30th birthday, before Hurricane Irma tore through the island he loves, ripping it to pieces.
He finally got through by phone to a friend on the island who was caring for his two rescue dogs. While his friends and pets survived, most every structure was severely damaged.
"I have four walls in the kitchen. That's about it," he said. "Everything else is pretty much gone, just down to the foundation."
He estimated that 70 percent to 80 percent of the homes on the island of about 4,200 people had been leveled.
So Atkinson and a core of others, including a number in Philadelphia who have lived on St. John and neighboring St. Thomas, are organizing a relief effort. He hopes to have the first 747 and other private planes filled with food, water, clothes, blankets, batteries, generators, chain saws, and other supplies heading out of Northeast Philadelphia Airport on Monday and Tuesday.
"I'm also working on getting a first-aid and response team together," said Atkinson, who has lived just outside Cruz Bay for about five years. Like many on St. John, he juggles several jobs — as a bartender, waiter, and woodworker.
"It's getting to be a dire situation," he said. "The timing is as terrible as it could get. Most of the focus now is on Florida and Texas."
Michelle Welk, who is also helping with the relief effort, lives in the Art Museum area but worked on St. John from July 2015 until last October.
"It's a very tight-knit community over there. Even if you don't know everyone's last name, you know their first and you know who they are," she said. "It's as close to complete devastation as you can get."
"We have to help as soon as we can."