Sunny Jiang, UCI professor and chair of civil & environmental engineering, interviews people at home in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, after two powerful hurricanes hit. Many of the island's 50,000-plus residents are relying on rainwater.

UCI environmental engineer Sunny Jiang traveled to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, in the second half of November as part of a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research project. Almost two months after two Category 5 hurricanes (Irma and Maria) struck the region, Jiang and her U.S. Geological Survey collaborator Christina Kellogg gathered samples for water quality testing. Most of the island still has no power, and the 50,000-plus residents are relying on rainwater as their main water source, with little information on its quality. The researchers took specimens from cisterns in residential homes and from bays and channels around the island. They interviewed more than 100 people of various socioeconomic circumstances to learn about their challenges and concerns. “We heard a lot of touching stories,” said Jiang, professor and chair of civil & environmental engineering. Samples are being transported back to the U.S. by a research vessel from the University of Miami. Jiang’s team will analyze them for contaminants and model the health risks. They expect the results will help St. Thomas residents to manage water in the hurricanes’ aftermath and identify priorities for post-hurricane relief and future policy decisions on disaster preparation. “We hope this effort will assist the underprivileged communities in getting back on their feet, accelerating the recovery process and rebuilding their island paradise,” Jiang said.