Weather experts are predicting a busy year, with as many as 14 hurricanes. Of those, between three and seven are predicted to be Category Three or larger.
Fortunately, the VI is far better prepared than it was just a few decades ago. In 1983, a government desk officer was given responsibility for the VI’s first disaster preparedness programme, which had a budget of $3,000. Today, the Department of Disaster Management employs a diverse range of professionals, who have helped the VI become a leader in disaster preparedness in the region.
We hope that government will continue to give priority to disaster preparedness here. But residents and businesses must also take steps to prepare: establishing disaster plans; outfitting homes and other buildings with safety components; securing loose tree branches and other objects in yards and construction sites; stockpiling water, non-perishable foods, radios and batteries; making special provisions for children and pets; preparing first aid kits; and keeping gas tanks full, among other steps.
Such measures should be carried out well in advance, as hurricanes don’t always give much warning.
The rush to prepare before Hurricane Omar hit the territory in October 2008 suggested that many residents had neglected to plan ahead properly. Hours before the storm arrived, people packed grocery stores, cars lined up at gas stations, and loose debris littered construction sites and yards.
Fortunately, the Category Three storm changed direction hours before its arrival, sparing the VI a direct hit. The resulting winds and rain caused only minor damage.
If Omar had not veered off, the fallout likely would have been much worse, as residents who have weathered a hurricane like 1989’s Hurricane Hugo can testify. That storm pounded the territory for eight hours, causing an estimated $40 million in damage, tossing sailboats on dry land, and ripping roofs off houses.
That kind of damage is less likely today, given the territory’s extensive preparations, but it is not impossible. Thus, the community should work together to prepare now.