If a major hurricane hits tomorrow, will the Virgin Islands be ready?
We’re afraid not. Another storm season started this month, and the VI is simply not as prepared as it should be.
In some respects, this is not surprising: The territory is by no means recovered from the catastrophic devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
Though some homes, businesses and infrastructure have been built back stronger, too many others have not. Moreover, many public buildings, including storm shelters and fire and police stations, remain compromised, and ground hasn’t been broken on the new National Emergency Operations Centre.
Though such issues are unavoidable to some extent, the government has been frustratingly slow to get the recovery rolling even as the private sector has taken the lead. In order to tackle urgent priorities as soon as possible, the new government must expedite the process of accessing recovery funding, including the approximately $400 million United Kingdom loan guarantee.
But that step doubtlessly will take more time, and intermediate steps are needed until it gets done.
Some are in the works already. Safe shelters, for example, should be a priority, and it is good news that the European Union is funding an effort to strengthen such facilities across the territory. But what happens if a storm arrives first?
Security is another concern, and given the lawlessness after Irma we were glad to hear that a new pre-deployment strategy is in place. But is the strategy realistic while some police stations and other facilities remain in disrepair?
This season, then, all residents need to remember that the territory will be extremely vulnerable until the larger-scale recovery is much further along.
Unfortunately, some common-sense preparations are being neglected. Around the VI, one can see the usual telltale signs that many residents are not taking the threat seriously.
Debris clutters yards. Ghuts are blocked by trash. Construction sites aren’t arranged so that they can be secured quickly. Derelict cars remain on roadsides, derelict boats in the seas and on the shorelines.
Addressing such issues is the responsibility of the entire community. We hope, then, that government, businesses, non-profit organisations, churches and individuals will band together to do everything they can to prepare for the worst.
Meanwhile, every resident needs a plan for a major storm. Will they stay home? Will they go to a shelter? Which one? How will they quickly and efficiently secure their homes and yards? How will they access water and food? Do they have adequate emergency supplies at home?