Saving Lives Inside the Storm: How a Local Retailer Rescued Employees During Hurricane Irma

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The inside story of Diamonds International’s rescue mission and ongoing relief efforts in the danger and destruction

Diamonds International employee delivering critical supplies to those in need

Going through Hurricane Irma was the hardest thing I have ever been through. We lost everything. The islands are so small that everybody knows someone that works at a Diamonds International, so we had to step up and help our team.

The world is well aware of Hurricane Irma’s wrath during the 2017 Caribbean hurricane season, where back to back storms devastated several islands and parts of the USA.

During the initial impact, it was extremely difficult to get emergency response to the affected areas due to severe infrastructural damage, creating constraints for outside relief efforts.

Local jewelry retail chain Diamonds International took immediate action on the ground to aid in the crisis situation. Over 60% of the company’s employees across the Caribbean were directly impacted by the storms, many left homeless and in desperate need.

Diamonds International funded crisis relief activities in the form of: chartering private planes and boats to deliver critical supplies including food, water and blankets; coordinating special landing permits; providing medical aid and treatment; transporting and evacuating employees; supplying housing; and financial support (list below).

Taking charge of the situation, key Diamonds International employees in St. Maarten converted a destroyed apartment into the Command Center - which operated as the logistics and communication hub for emergency relief efforts across all affected islands, and housed multiple employees that were left homeless.

“Going through Hurricane Irma was the hardest thing I have ever been through. We lost everything. The islands are so small that everybody knows someone that works at a Diamonds International, so we had to step up and help our team,” said Kyle Holland, Regional Project Manager in St. Maarten, whose family’s home and possessions were destroyed. “We were evacuating people, getting medical aid and supplies to whoever needed it, coordinating shipments and permits, and it’s not over, we are now in rebuilding mode.”

As emergency relief efforts were underway on the ground, Diamonds International’s corporate offices in New York and Miami raised funds to help those most affected recover and rebuild their lives. Generous donations came in from all over the world, including Diamonds International’s customers, owners, employees, retail brands, vendors and suppliers, and cruise industry partners via a crowd-funding campaign.

“The past months have revealed a community of colleagues united in compassion, generosity and ultimate humanity,” said Joseph Hewes, Store Manager in St. Thomas. “We are so thankful for the supplies, support and recovery funds to help us rebuild our lives. It’s truly a privilege and pleasure to know that we are cared for, and to be part of the Diamonds International family.”

Multiple Diamonds International retail stores also sustained damages in the storms, including marquee sales drivers in St. Maarten (destroyed) and St. Thomas, and Grand Turk, Antigua, Tortola (destroyed) Puerto Rico and Key West. Losses included destroyed infrastructure, inventory damages, theft, and sales from closed locations.

A prominent attraction and employer throughout the tourism-dependent region, Diamonds International is an integral part of the tourist experience, catering to millions of cruise ship passengers annually, that pour into the Caribbean daily. Diamonds International’s corporate offices worked tirelessly to ensure daily business operations continued smoothly, and were adjusted to changes in port and cruise line itineraries, while managing the recovery efforts.

“Hurricane Irma faced us with our biggest challenge to date. The damage to our employees, stores and operations was catastrophic. We are proud to say that we banded together as a company to do everything in our power to help the locals, our Diamonds International family in the Caribbean and Florida. Our teams on the ground were the real heroes. They were rescuing people and coordinating logistics all while being impacted by the storms themselves. Their dedication and resilience is incredible,” says the Gad Family, owners and operators of Diamonds International and manufacturing arm Almod Diamonds.

“The company is currently focused on moving forward, and assisting our affected employees to rebuild their lives. We are investing heavily to repair our stores and keep people employed, moving them forward as quickly as possible so they can get their lives going, and are not mentally and emotionally devastated.”

Diamonds International has been entrenched in the Caribbean for 30 years, with over 125 locations and over 80% of its workforce in the region. The company’s core philosophies are rooted in a dedication to human rights and welfare, reinvesting in the communities in which it operates, and giving back to those that helped the company grow from a small boutique in St.Thomas into one of the largest retailers and employers in the region.

Partial list of supplies & provisions delivered to those in need:
food, water, flashlights, air beds, generators, cell phones, computers, gas stoves, sleeping bags, bug repellent, first-aid kits, building tools, tarps, hand sanitizer, blankets, dishes, utensils, toiletries, bleach, batteries, garbage bags, towels, wipes, toothpaste, diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, baby sunscreen, female hygiene products, fuel cans, toothbrush, dishwashing soap, gloves, Ziploc bags, sunscreen, lanterns, coolers, laundry detergent, charcoal, fans, bed sheets, extension cords, matches, candles, radio, can openers, car seat belts.

Evacuation planes, boats, flight tickets, ground transportation, medical treatment, housing, shipping, and financial compensation.

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About Diamonds International/Almod Diamonds:
Established in 1988, Diamonds International (“DI”) is the largest tax & duty-free jewelry retailer in the world. With 125 retail locations across 22 Caribbean countries, Florida, Mexico and Alaska, Diamonds International serves millions of tourists and cruise ship passengers annually with an unrivaled selection of loose diamonds, rare gemstones, designer jewelry and watch brands. DI is the exclusive retailer of the US-patented Crown of Light diamond and rare Safi Kilima Tanzanite brands. Sourcing directly from the mines, DI is a De Beers Sightholder and supports ethical mine-to-market practices. Almod Diamonds is the manufacturing affiliate of DI, and for 30 years both companies remain privately-held and family-run, with corporate offices in New York’s prestigious diamond district and Miami.

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