The US Virgin Islands, devastated by Hurricane Irma, are in serious need of aid

Key Points
  • "It's just rubble in most of the areas," General Deborah Howell, leader of the Virgin Islands National Guard, told NPR.
  • St. Thomas' only hospital "has been catastrophically damaged due to the storm," according to its acting CEO.
  • Cruise line companies are using ships in the area to evacuate those stranded on the islands and provide aid.
US Virgin Islands governor: Federal aid is here but we need more help

Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, tore its away across the U.S. Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm on Sept. 6, mixing together a deadly combination of winds and rising water.

Government officials and local residents alike are reporting the damage as catastrophic, and saying it will be months before the islands are able to recover.

"The infrastructure is destroyed," Dr. Libby Flowers, who is treating patients at her clinic on St. Thomas, told CNBC. "The roads are impassable, the power grid is completely gone, and there is a lot of looting and robbing."

Flowers, who has lived and worked on the island for eight years as an emergency room doctor, said her family went through Hurricane Hugo in 1987.

"Irma was by far the worst," Flowers said.

@NASA tweet.

Organizations from the U.S. military to cruise lines are rallying support, evacuating those who need shelter and sending in teams to clean up debris.

General Deborah Howell, leader of the Virgin Islands National Guard, told NPR on Monday "the structures are just not there."

"It's just rubble in most of the areas … it almost looks like a bomb had exploded in the area," Howell said, before adding that rebuilding the islands will start "from scratch."

With dozens of excursions canceled, cruise line companies are using ships in the area to evacuate those stranded on the islands and provide aid.

"'Majesty of the Seas' was in St. Thomas on Tuesday to pick up evacuees and drop them off in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Wednesday, where it will also pick up supplies," Royal Caribbean Cruises told CNBC.

Likewise, Norwegian Cruise Line's "Norwegian Sky" went to St. Thomas to bring supplies and is now heading to Miami, according to the company.

Carnival Cruise Lines is leading "several efforts to provide relief," a representative told CNBC, "with 11 of its ships making 36 deliveries throughout the region."

"A wide variety of items, including food, water, clothing, toiletries and medical supplies, are scheduled to be delivered over the next several weeks," Carnival Cruise Line said.

St. Thomas resident Chrystie Payne is now in Puerto Rico after escaping on Monday. She and several friends and family are spearheading an effort to get medical supplies and other relief to the island as quickly as possible, saying "it's incomparable to anything that's ever happened."

"The island was 80 percent destroyed, and the lieutenant governor is reporting 40,000 people are homeless," Payne told CNBC. St. Thomas has a population of around 52,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Tina Comissiong, acting CEO of Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas, told CNBC her hospital "has been catastrophically damaged due to the storm."

"We successfully evacuated patients and airlifted those in critical condition to St. Croix and partners in Puerto Rico," Comissiong said.

While Florida weathered Irma better than expected, Starwood Capital's Barry Sternlicht, who has property in the Caribbean, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday the Caribbean has "been ripped apart."

"There is no food, and the government is saying they won't have electricity until December," Sternlicht said.

Sternlicht is part of a private group sending "a planeload of people" to the islands, saying "we have to help people rebuild."

"It's almost like a steel brush scraped through the islands and just took everything with it," Sternlicht said.

Stacey Plaskett, the representative to Congress for the U.S. Virgin Islands, established a fund on Friday to provide for the critical needs and the cost of aid. Island officials announced a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday to hire workers to temporary jobs.

"We need construction workers, electricians, plumbers, health care personnel, and more security," Flowers said.

Payne is leading an effort to raise $50,000 on crowdfunding website YouCaring, called "St. Thomas Irma Relief." The fund raised $9,962 as of Wednesday afternoon.

At least 24 people were killed by Irma in the Caribbean, Reuters reported Sunday.