- Written by AMANDA ULRICH
- Published: 23 September 2017
The southern portion of Tortola was hit the hardest by Hurricane Irma, with almost all buildings damaged and some completely destroyed, according to a second situation report released Tuesday by the Department of Disaster Management.
The document also provided other technical information about the storm’s effects and described the condition of homes, schools, water and sewage plants, health clinics and other infrastructure across the territory.
Most harbours are severely damaged and many boats remain tangled into each other or sunken.
Almost all buildings in the southern part of Virgin Gorda were also impacted in some way. North Sound businesses and homes were heavily damaged, along with “high-end tourism properties” in the area.
As of the report’s completion on Saturday, Sept. 16, the VG airfield remained covered with sand, and debris littered the ground near Spanish Town. The marina in the area is partially damaged but the terminal “seems to be usable,” the document stated, adding that there are no navigational hazards within 10 nautical miles of the island.
Anegada and JVD
Though officials warned before the hurricane that Anegada could suffer some of the worst destruction, DDM reported minimal damage on the sister island. Power has been restored on the grid that feeds the water plant, and generators are available.
Communications to Tortola remain an issue, but several personnel on the sister island now have satellite phones. Many of the 106 Anegada residents who were evacuated to Tortola before Irma have returned to the island via ferry.
As for Jost Van Dyke, homes and resorts in Great Harbour, Little Harbour and White Bay have seen extensive damage. About 80 families were displaced and are staying with friends or relatives.
Because the emergency shelter on JVD was destroyed, there is no official shelter on the island, though the report stated that an impromptu shelter at the Church of God of Prophecy was being established — though the roof needed to be properly secured. The fire station could also potentially be used as a shelter.
Asked Friday for information on the planned shelters at JVD and other locations, Health and Social Development Minister Ronnie Skelton said he hadn’t been updated about them.
DDM did not give specifics about Peter, Mosquito, Necker, Guana, Camanoe or Scrub islands, but stated that “all experienced varying levels of damage.”
DDM announced that the amount of relief supplies coming into the territory is “significantly less” than the number of pledges initially received.
Nevertheless, a distribution plan for the donations has been established, and aid coming through the two main operating ports, the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport and Port Purcell, will be transported to a staging area. From there, it will be distributed to nine locations within each district.
As of Saturday, Sept. 16, 56 tons of aid had been distributed to West End, Sea Cows Bay and East End by the National Emergency Operations Centre.
Five more tons — including clothing, toiletries, water, food, baby items and feminine hygiene products — were taken to Jost Van Dyke.
East End, Cane Garden Bay and Huntums Ghut also received relief supplies last week.
Like most other operations on the island, aid distribution has been impacted by the lack of electricity. Without power, the ports have had difficulty recording what aid is coming in real-time.
An offsite procedure using the Logistics Support System has increased transparency, and a generator has been requested, the report stated.
Peebles Hospital in Road Town is functional, according to the DDM.
A thousand vials of tetanus medication, as well as diabetes medication and other supplies, were provided in the days following Irma.
The hospital has seen a surge in need, but the total number of injured people is still being counted. The BVI Health Services Authority is compiling a full report, and more supplies and medications should arrive in the territory shortly.
The top floor of the Adina Donovan Home for the Elderly was compromised by Irma — including losing much of its roof — but otherwise the building is operational. A technical team was working to provide power from Peebles next door.
The Rainbow Children’s Home is also functional, including usable water and a generator.
Anegada Health Clinic also appears to be functional, and two nurses were dispatched with medication.
Health services on Jost Van Dyke, however, did not fare as well. The roof of the island’s clinic was almost completely destroyed, and the structural integrity of the building is being assessed. The hospital is addressing what medicine can be salvaged and specific medicinal requests.
Residents of JVD appear to have suffered psychological trauma, the report stated, citing information provided by the Pan American Health Organisation.
Clinics in Virgin Gorda have sustained a range of damage as well. North Sound Clinic lost its roof and several windows, and there is concern about the limited stock of diabetes and hypertension medication — though Peebles should be distributing some shortly. The roof of the Iris O’Neal Clinic was slightly damaged, and diesel supply for the generator is running low.
Across the territory, 279 people were living in emergency shelters as of Saturday, the report stated. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of all buildings in the VI were damaged or destroyed, and their occupants have had to seek shelter elsewhere.
Five shelters were closed due to unexpected hurricane damages or other catalysts: the East End/Long Look Community Centre, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Jost Van Dyke Primary School, New Testament Church of God, and the Methodist church East End.
As of Saturday, 11 shelters were open across the islands, and officials were scouting out bigger facilities that could work as emergency shelters, including the Save the Seed Centre in Duffs Bottom (part of which may be used to accommodate the British Army); the Multi-purpose Sports Complex in Road Town (which is now housing many of the people who had been living in the St. George’s shelter); and Prospect Reef Hotel.
At the time of the report, several flights had been leaving daily from Beef Island with evacuees: As of Sept. 15, 1,597 passengers had left the territory through the airport.
In the days following Irma, the British military has provided additional security at the airport — and many soldiers have set up camp in the main terminal.
The BVI Airports Authority allowed access to emergency and relief purposes at Beef Island up until 5 p.m. each day. Sol Petroleum has provided jet fuel and other emergency services. The airport runways on Beef Island, Anegada and Virgin Gorda are also all intact.
Since the storm, Port Purcell has become one of the most functional seaports. The port’s admin complex was destroyed and the port does not have power, but customs is fully functional. All shipments are coordinated through the NEOC.
Other ports declared fit for boat traffic, despite some damage, include the Road Town ferry terminal, the cruise ship pier, the BVI Fishing Complex dock, the Anegada ferry terminal and the Little Dix Bay ferry jetty on Virgin Gorda.
Ferries are running between Tortola and Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.
The BVI Tourist Board reported that there were about 250 visitors on Tortola at the onset of Irma. As of Sept. 15, there were only five left.
Want to read?
Click here to read the full report.
Resort properties expressed difficulties in keeping track of which guests had been evacuated, considering that many left quickly as various opportunities arose.
Cruise ships through Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line also transported American tourists from the territory to Puerto Rico and Miami.
The tourism industry as a whole has been heavily impacted by Irma, though the full extent is unknown. Several hotels have been closed and many restaurants and bars were destroyed. There are a few properties that have slowly begun operating again, however, including Captain Mulligan’s at Nanny Cay.
The electricity generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure was “severely damaged” by Irma, DDM stated in its report, adding that electricity supply throughout the territory was being provided solely by generators as of Saturday.
Electrical engineers discovered after the hurricane that the generator at the Pockwood Pond power plant had been soaked and needed to dry out.
Since the report, however, progress has been made: The generator is now operational and is currently supporting Peebles, the banks, the Multi-purpose Sports Complex and the Tortola Pier Park.
Much of this restoration was possible because the government recently placed most power lines below ground in the capital and its surroundings. The above-ground distribution system across the entire territory has been mostly destroyed, and it will take “significant time and effort” to restore, according to the DDM report.
Phone networks, radio
The report also provided an update on telecommunications service.
CCT signal, which was one of the patchiest in the days following Irma, is now available in Sea Cows Bay, parts of Road Town and Baughers Bay. Digicel’s fiber optic cables were underground, and the company and has been providing coverage in Road Town and East End.
Flow has sporadic coverage throughout the territory, and has set up five cell sites in Tortola.
The NEOC was utilising nearby radio stations to carry messages, as the local VHF network suffered considerable blows. Local radio station ZBVI was up and running again by the time of the report, and other stations were working to restore operations.
The VI government has continued to post messages through local radio and TV stations and social media.
Communications on Virgin Gorda were perhaps the most affected in the territory. For almost a week after Irma, almost no information could be transmitted between there and Tortola, according to the report. Communication remained limited as of Sept. 16, but the district representative was given a satellite phone.
DDM found that schools on the western side of Tortola sustained the most damage because of their proximity to the coast. High storm surges and open terrain likely contributed to the amount of destruction.
There was one particular brand of storm shutter that failed on many school buildings, which could be contributed to the product itself or incorrect installation.
“More traditional” windows at BVI Seventh-day Adventist School, Leonora Delville Primary School, Ebenezer Thomas Primary School and Althea Scatliffe Primary School suffered far less damage.
There are several groups of people living in various school buildings, though DDM noted that many of the schools in good condition were not being occupied.
“This could imply that the communities have already arranged other means of temporary shelter,” the report stated.
More information about the damage done to specific schools in the area, as well as a needs list compiled by different organisations, can be found in the full DDM report.