US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico brace for Hurricane Irma

by | Sep 5, 2017 | Puerto Rico, United States Virgin Islands | Comments

The United States Caribbean territories of US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, along with the Leeward Islands are bracing themselves for Hurricane Irma, a storm the National Hurricane Center in Miami has described as “potentially catastrophic.” The territorial governments have both declared states of emergency and open shelters in preparation for the onslaught of the hurricane, which at the time of publishing had winds up to 185 miles per hour.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló (D) requested that the Trump administration declare a state of emergency, a move that would free up resources to deal with the preparation and aftermath of the hurricane. On the US Virgin Islands, Governor Kenneth Mapp (I) declared a state of emergency, as has Rosselló, and Florida Governor Rick Scott (R). Mapp also issued a special executive order activating the Virgin Islands National Guard.

In the islands of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Executive Director Ricardo Ramos said a general blackout was imminent, given the lack of maintenance in the infrastructure of the utility due to the agency’s financial crisis.

The islands are expected to feel varying impacts of what is now the most powerful hurricane to be recorded in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, from tropical storm winds across the entirety of Puerto Rico, and potentially catastrophic damage in the Puerto Rico island municipality of Culebra, as well as in St. Thomas and St. John.

Huge potential for damage

The hurricane will be affecting two of  the US jurisdictions in worse financial shape, with Puerto Rico reeling from its decade long recession and general financial crisis, and the US Virgin Islands facing budget shortfalls.

The damages from Irma threaten with worsening the situation in Puerto Rico even further, particularly when considering the situation of the PREPA, which has already enough debt it cannot afford regular maintenance and needed improvements to infrastructure. Damage from winds will further aggravate the financial condition of the utility.

Active season

September is the most active month of the Atlantic hurricane season, and this year is proving to be no exception. Just as the latest reports from Irma indicated its strengh, Tropical Storm Jose became the 10th named storm this season. Alarmingly, Jose seems to be following Irma’s trajectory, albeit with models predicting a turn in the northwestern direction before it could directly impact the US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, but at this stage there is still significant error in the forecast. This presents the possibility that within a week, the territories could feel the effects of two hurricanes.