- Written by CONOR KING DEVITT
- Published: 29 September 2017
Hurricanes Irma and Maria reached the farthest flung edges of the territory, causing the sister islands — most of which rely primarily on tourism — varying degrees of devastation.
The sister islands’ two representatives, however, don’t vary: Both argue that their constituents are making serious progress towards recovery, regardless of their islands’ level of damage.
“The recovery effort is going very well on Virgin Gorda,” said Ninth District Representative Dr. Hubert O’Neal, who also represents Anegada.
In a radio interview on Monday, Dr. O’Neal painted a picture of a VG community that had banded together well in the face of disaster.
Though he acknowledged the “tremendous” level of damage there, Dr. O’Neal also described an island with open supermarkets, lineless gas stations and a relief centre in the Spanish Town marina where hardworking volunteers have been handing out supplies and hot meals daily.
Second District Representative Mitch Turnbull also had positive things to say about the effort on Jost Van Dyke, which was ravaged by Irma.
“The community is steadily working hand-in-hand,” Mr. Turnbull said, adding, “It’s pretty bad over there, but I’m confident and the community is confident.”
With a large collection of wood homes and beachside property, JVD suffered immense physical damage from Irma’s storm surge and winds.
On Tuesday, Governor Gus Jaspert and Deputy Governor Rosalie Adams visited VG.
“Walking through Spanish Town, I was able to see marked improvements from my previous visit last week,” Mr. Jaspert wrote in a statement the following day. “The togetherness of the community continues to shine through.”
The governor also wrote that he expected the island’s central power to be restored that afternoon, giving some properties in the commercial area of VG electricity again.
“Although there is a long way ahead in our recovery and to connect every house, this will start to make everyday life just that little bit easier for those on the island,” he explained.
In his interview on Monday, Dr. O’Neal also said that every road on the island had been cleared and the distribution centres in Spanish Town and the North Sound were well stocked with food, water, and tarpaulins.
The representative attributed a lot of that good fortune to private benefactors.
“A lot of our rich residents on Virgin Gorda have contributed mightily,” he said. “They have brought in supplies and they are distributing to the wider community. … We are so thankful we had that resource to tap into in this difficult time.”
Dr. O’Neal praised a few individuals by name, including Sir Richard Branson, Larry Page, and David Johnson.
He also praised the ad-hoc committees that formed in the wake of the storm to help organise the community.
Vincent Wheatley, government’s sister islands programme coordinator, was responsible for putting together those committees, according to Maria Mays, the Governor’s Office policy officer.
Despite the help and progress, VG’s trademark tourism industry could have a difficult road going forward.
All of the island’s resorts — including those on neighbouring Mosquito and Necker Islands — were “practically devastated,” according to Dr. O’Neal.
That also includes Rosewood Little Dix Bay, which was scheduled to be nearing the end of an 18-month renovation period.
Now the resort, which laid off about 300 people when it shut down in May 2016, had to delay its reopening — previously scheduled for December — to a yet-to-be-announced date, postponing the return of jobs to the island.
In the days before Irma ripped across the Virgin Islands, many were especially worried about the hurricane’s potential effect on Anegada.
The flat coral island’s highest point of elevation is about 28 feet, a frightening prospect when facing up against a hurricane predicted to bring a storm surge as high as 20 feet. Additionally, early projections also predicted the storm would pass directly over the sister island.
Those concerns spurred government to launch an evacuation on Sept. 5, which 106 out of roughly 300 Anegada residents took part in, according to DDM.
Luckily for those who stayed, the sister island was spared the worst of the Category Five hurricane. DDM reported relatively minimal damage on Anegada, and the island’s power — which operates on its own grid — is up and running again, according to Dr. O’Neal.
That is not to say the storm did not cause any harm: The representative noted that several residents lost their roofs and saw their properties damaged.
To help aid the isolated population, the United Kingdom military has been air-dropping supplies via helicopter, Dr. O’Neal added.
“They have recovered very well,” he said. “They are doing fine.”
Jost Van Dyke, on the other hand, felt the brunt of Irma.
“Overall, it suffered severely,” said Mr. Turnbull.
DDM reported that homes and resorts in Great Harbour, Little Harbour and White Bay saw extensive damage and about 80 families were displaced and forced to stay with friends or relatives.
Since the Public Works Department did not have any heavy equipment on the island, JVD has had to rely on two privately-owned excavators for cleanup, Mr. Turnbull explained. That should change soon, he said, as he was working on getting two additional machines shipped over.
Still, JVD residents as a community — around 300 live on the island — have managed to make significant progress while taking care of those who lost everything, according to the representative.
Necessary supplies were being distributed by Foxy’s Restaurant, Mr. Turnbull added.