Overshadowed by Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands recover slowly from Maria

by Oct 17, 2018Headlines, United States Virgin Islands0 comments

As most Americans are aware, last September 20, Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico, packing a mighty punch and wreaking havoc on the island. However, less publicized was the storms effect on the United States Virgin Islands.

This past week, the territory took time to reflect on its year-long journey. Virgin Islanders and their communities were first devastated, but have since come together in support of the relief effort, hopefully strengthening them for the better.

Maria’s first hurricane force winds were recorded during the early hours of September 20 just south of St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.  By this time, her winds had lowered from category five strength to a category four, but still gusting at 155 mph.

According to ReliefWeb, the specialized digital service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Maria absolutely crippled the islands key infrastructure and services. Just like its neighbor to the North, 90 percent of the territories electrical grid was destroyed and forced most of the territory’s inhabitants to live in blackness for months. Internet, cable and telephones lines were completely wiped out, making logistical management for emergency responders very difficult. 48 of the territories Department of Education buildings were destroyed or damaged. The storm left behind 600,000 cubic yards of debris, or roughly enough to fill 177 olympic-sized swimming pools. So far, the island has received over 10,000 applications from its citizens for assistance to help repair their homes. Medical facilities were also extensively damaged, resulting in over 800 people being evacuated to continue medical treatment.

The territory was crippled.

But now, one year later, the territory has steadily recovered with the assistance of massive amounts of aid and grant money, from both international and domestic donors.

One of many domestic programs aiding relief efforts is Project Promise, an at-risk youth non profit on St. Croix island that helps support and provide educational opportunities for those who cannot otherwise obtain it. Thanks in large part to generous donations, including a new space provided by Island Therapy Solutions, Project Promise was able to continue programming for its students just three short weeks after the hurricane. Directly after the hurricane, they also provide their students and their families with generators, food and furniture, among many other essentials.

The Project’s members contributed to the restoration efforts as well, donating their time to numerous community service projects, including planting over 40 new coconut trees on the island’s beaches to help restore damaged agriculture.

To help alleviate some of the storm’s long-term effects, Project Promise created last April the the St. Croix Trauma Intervention and Relief Project, a four month-long initiative aimed at targeting the mental health needs of the community.

“Six months after Hurricane Maria, many in our community are still reeling from the emotional and psychological impact of the storm,” said Resa O’Reilly, Project Promise president. “It was with this thought in mind that we developed this program.”

External assistance was also crucial in repairing vital infrastructure and services on the islands. In total, the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided the territory with over $1.9 billion in grants, $940 million of which was allocated to the repair of the electrical grid. FEMA also supplied over 800 offshore electrical workers to aid in the restoration and rebuilding efforts. Successfully, and because of their assistance, power was restored to over 90 percent of the entire territory within 100 days after Maria and to all residents by March.

Furthermore, FEMA and its supporting agencies are planning long-term sustainability projects. Some of these projects include replacing wooden electrical poles with composite poles able to withstand 200 mph winds. They also are supporting the US Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority in building an underground electrical network that will be much less susceptible to widespread damage from future Hurricanes.

Virgin Islanders are still recovering, but real and sustainable progress has been made. Thanks, as O’Reilly states, in large part to those that have committed to seeing it through.

“As we reflect on how far we have progressed since the passing of Hurricane Maria one year ago, we are extremely grateful for the friends and connections we made along the way, as well as the support we received from our community and beyond.”