A Newton businessman has stepped up to run a Facebook group set up in St. Thomas to aid Hurricane Irma victims after much of the island lost power in the wake of the devastating storm.
Seth Worby, owner of Champ Internet Solutions, and Josefine Nowitz, the company’s business strategy director, are managing “What’s Going on in St. Thomas?”, a community forum that has morphed into a lifeline for people looking for information about loved ones.
In the past 48 hours, the group has grown from 33,000 members to 49,000, he said.
“The second that hurricane hit, it became a lifeline of sorts for people on the island and people in the States,” Worby said Friday. “It’s heartbreaking and emotional to look at our page.”
Anissa Roth of Kentucky turned to the page for information on her elderly mother who lives in St. Thomas. Her mother’s neighbor saw her post and replied that her mother was alive and well, Roth said.
“This is the largest storm that we’ve ever encountered there,” said Roth, who grew up in St. Thomas. “I went through [Hurricane] Hugo and a few others, but this storm is catastrophic.”
Worby has close ties to St. Thomas. He is also the owner of Explorevirginislands.com, a travel agency that started at Champ Solutions.
The Facebook group was originally run by his friend, St. Thomas resident Harold Defrieze. After much of the island lost power and phone service, Worby and Nowitz temporarily took the page over.
Worby said the travel site is not looking to benefit from people’s interest in the site.
“Obviously we’re not going to try to push wave runner trips on people when there’s devastation,” he said.
The travel site has partnered with the American Red Cross and now has a page dedicated to raising money for Hurricane Irma victims on the Virgin Islands, Worby firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.