Don LiDrazzah doesn’t usually spend the holidays on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. That’s where he ended up this year, but it’s anything but a vacation.
LiDrazzah is among the hundreds of relief workers and government officials living aboard a Carnival Cruise Line ship while helping rebuild the hurricane-rocked island of St. Croix.
The U.S. Territory was among the handful of tourist islands barreled into by Hurricane Maria in September, leaving its 50,000 residents without power. LiDrazzah, an electrical worker, arrived last month and has so far spent 12 hours a day, seven days a week helping rebuild the uprooted electrical grid.
“This island was just as bad as Puerto Rico,” he said in a recent phone interview. He described snapped and toppled telephone poles, but also a lot of patience in the people living there.
“Their attitudes are great, they’re happy to see us,” he said. “It’s constant and it makes us work that much harder.”
A Vancouver resident, LiDrazzah is a paid contractor. He answered a union bulletin for the job, but he said he was urged to go by his son, a member of the U.S. Border Patrol stationed in Puerto Rico.
“He was talking about the devastation and he said ‘they really need you here, dad,'” he said. It’s unclear how long the rebuilding will take, but LiDrazzah knows he will spend the holidays working. He is making plans for his wife and youngest daughter to come stay in a hotel for Christmas.
With his workload, though, he probably won’t have too much time to think about what he is missing.
LiDrazzah’s days start at 4:30 a.m. and end close to 5 p.m. As a foreman, he leads a crew of seven reinstalling power poles, hanging lines and trying to rebuild what he calls “the backbone” of the grid.
It’s work he has some experience in. In 1995, while living in San Diego, he spent weeks in San Francisco after it was hit by a major windstorm. Bad winters in the Pacific Northwest have also led him to do repair work in rural counties.
But the remoteness of St. Croix presents different challenges, he said. If supplies and raw materials run dry, workers try to salvage them from debris or await a new shipment.
“We’re taking materials that are already broken and trying to salvage everything we can in order to get anything (electrical) up,” he said. “The typical day is like that.”
Nights are spent aboard the Carnival Fascination, a 2,056-passenger cruise ship. After the long shifts, he said he is too tired to do much besides eat dinner, call his family and then go to bed. Some venture into town at night.
Given that he was going to spend his Thanksgiving with his son’s family this year, he said he’s ‘bummed’ to be missing out. But it’s easy to keep things in perspective when he ventures out into the devastation every day.
“I was talking to my wife the other day because they’re at Disneyland and she was talking about stress and things like that and I said ‘You know what, life’s too short,'” he said. “These people have been without power for almost two months and you can’t believe how patient they are.”