Hurricane Irma ripped off hundreds of roofs around the territory, but government doesn’t yet have a reliable estimate of how many people were left homeless by the storm, Health and Social Development Minister Ronnie Skelton said during a Friday press conference.

“You’re asking a very complex question,” he told this reporter, adding that more than 300 people are living in official shelters. “The number of people with roofs off that are living with other family members and stuff without their home — we don’t quite know that as yet.”

As residents struggle to get back on their feet, he added, there is an urgent need for another solution.

“I know people can’t live in shelters long term,” he said. “They need to be able to get some level of temporary housing while they rebuild their permanent homes.”

Shelter conditions

Asked about the living conditions at the shelters, he acknowledged that “there’s a water problem.”

“They’re not perfect and we’re working towards it,” he said. “I just came from one this morning and I understand one of the concerns is running water, and all that we have are tanks and that’s not sufficient.”

Because of such issues, he added that he was glad to hear Communications and Works Minister Mark Vanterpool say earlier in the press conference that public water would be restored to some areas soon.

Mr. Vanterpool added, “At most of the shelters we have power generators and we’re trucking water to them until we can get water to them more regularly, so the situation is improving.”

New shelters?

In response to another question, Mr. Skelton said he wasn’t familiar with plans mentioned in a Sept. 15 report by the Department of Disaster Management to consider establishing shelters at the Save the Seed Centre and Prospect Reef Hotel on Tortola and at the Church of God of Prophecy on Jost Van Dyke.

“I know that I’m the minister for these things, but I am not aware of the two things you just mentioned,” he said. “No one’s briefed me as yet.”

Because the emergency shelter on JVD was destroyed, there is no official shelter on the island, though the DDM 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, the report stated.

The minister also said that aid will continue to be provided to the shelter occupants and other vulnerable residents.

“The relief is going to be going to the most vulnerable,” he said. “It’s very important that those of us who can help ourselves need to do so, so that government can concentrate on helping those who can’t help themselves.”