U.S. Virgin Islands Undergo Recovery Efforts After Irma's Destruction

Sep 13, 2017
Originally published on September 13, 2017 5:23 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Of all the places that hurricane Irma hit, the U.S. Virgin Islands appear to have experienced some of the worst devastation on American soil. They're known as a tourist destination - a tropical paradise. Now parts of the islands look like a giant stomped on them and kicked the pieces across the landscape. Tourists and some locals have been leaving on Coast Guard vessels and cruise ships to Miami and Puerto Rico. The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands is Kenneth Mapp, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

KENNETH MAPP: Good day.

SHAPIRO: How would you describe what you're seeing as you tour the islands?

MAPP: Well, I lived through Hurricane Hugo and Marilyn, and they were really serious events but no comparison to Irma. It damaged severely, making useless our hospital on St. Thomas. It devastated schools. It crushed homes and buildings. So we are concentrating right now on the personal needs of our community, of our citizens, of our businesspeople and of our guests.

SHAPIRO: I know that the storm passed late last week. Have you been able to assess, for example, what percentage of the islands are without power, what percentage of homes were destroyed, things like that?

MAPP: St. John is a hundred percent without power, except for standby power generation. St. Thomas has more than 90 percent without power generation. Ninety percent of St. Thomas' distribution power lines, poles are on the ground.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

MAPP: Over 50 percent of the power lines and poles in St. John are on the ground. So we've just been getting relief supplies, water, meals, medicines to our citizens. The bottom line is we're getting tremendous help from our federal partners, but the U.S. Virgin Islands need help.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned safety and security. And the days before relief teams arrived, locals reported looting and violence on social media. What's your understanding of the safety situation?

MAPP: Well, we did have some safety issues on St. John. I'm pleased to say we did not have mass looting. We did have folks go into a couple of the businesses, took out three ATMs and breached them. We got National Guard units and got police officers. Today I'm doubling up the police presence on the island of St. John.

I spoke with Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, and he pledged 100 New York state troopers and/or MP members from his National Guard bureau. And we're working with another one of our partners to get additional police officers here. The members of the police force - about 80 percent of them suffered structural damages to their homes.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

MAPP: But we've had more than 85 percent of them report to duty, and they've just been kind of going around the clock. So we're just really trying to get support systems in place.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I know you met yesterday with the FEMA administrator Brock Long. What did you ask him for, and what did he agree to provide?

MAPP: Well, he - the visit was very welcome. I've had two good conversations with President Trump, who pledged his support and commitment for the recovery of the islands and actually asked me to let the residents know that in the next five or six days, that he will be paying a visit to see for himself how the federal assets are being deployed to help the citizens and to see the disasters and to underscore to the Virgin Islanders here that he's fully committed to our recovery.

Brock Long's visit was a very, very good visit. We asked for a little bit faster mobilization of provisions to the islands. We were asking the DoD's - the ship has now docked between the islands, and we're trying to get the marines off and get them situated so they can start to help with the debris removal.

SHAPIRO: When you say faster mobilization of provisions, do people have enough water? What is the most pressing need right now?

MAPP: I would say, yes, that we've got great stocks of water, MREs...

SHAPIRO: Meals ready-to-eat, yeah.

MAPP: A number of our large supermarkets remained intact, and so we shrunk the curfew to give people an opportunity to go out and be able to buy food. You know, particularly, like, on St. John, a number of the restaurants that were not severely damaged - they opened up and cooked and just was giving people hot meals and serving them.

The community and the spirit of the people have come together really to help each other. But it's a huge challenge. The recovery is going to be long. And so we ask for help while we mobilize the Department of Defense and federal assets to help our people.

SHAPIRO: Governor Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands, thank you for talking with us, and good luck rebuilding.

MAPP: And thank you for having me. And I appreciate the time.

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