2 A few months After Maria And Irma, U.S. Virgin Islands STAY IN The Dark

2 A few months After Maria And Irma, U.S. Virgin Islands Remain In The Dark

Enlarge this picture toggle caption Ken Thomas/AP Ken Thomas/AP

The continuing blackouts in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria have overshadowed the devastation in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands, where almost 73 percent of residents remain without power 8 weeks after the Category 5 storms produced landfall.

A lot more than 33,000 people, which has ended a third of the U.S. territory’s populace, are awaiting help from the Federal Crisis Management Organization. The Virgin Islands are home to more than 106,000 Americans, according to the latest census data.

“The damage is just so pervasive,” says Fredreka Schouten, a reporter for USA Today who returned to her indigenous St. Croix and St. Thomas this month.

Schouten tells Here & Now’s Robin Little that she could perception the severe devastation mainly because she flew into Frederiksted, the historic port village where she was created.

“The type of beaches along Frederiksted … [had been] just pounded clean of sand to stone left from the storm surge,” she says. “And then as we got closer and type of turned to produce our landing, I began to see the blue tarps covering scores and scores of homes on the southwest corner of the island.”

The Virgin Islands Ability and Drinking water Authority is continuing efforts to restore electricity and reconstruct the power grid, bringing again power for more than 16,000 customers this last weekend and on Monday.

“With supplies to include poles, transformers, cable and other hardware arriving weekly, the Authority continues to be committed to its aim of restoring 90% of all areas across the Virgin Islands by Christmas 2017,” the public utility wrote the other day on Facebook. “Another 200 off-island linemen are anticipated to arrive over another couple of days to augment the restoration effort.”

The boil-drinking water notice was also lifted the other day for St. Thomas and St. John but remains in effect for St. Croix. People who don’t have usage of bottled water are advised to boil drinking water for at least one minute before drinking.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson in September that the destruction was so extensive because “St. John and St. Croix and St. Thomas really hold a lot of the primary infrastructure, especially St. John is usually reliant on the infrastructure of St. Thomas.”

President Trump recently signed a good $36.5 billion disaster comfort bill, which is likely to offer $800 million in low-interest loans to greatly help the Virgin Islands go over operating expenses. On a recent go to, a bipartisan congressional delegation led by GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer pledged to rebuild the island to an increased standard.

“There exists a federal legislation that says that basically after disasters you rebuild to the typical that was there,” Schouten says. “And there is usually increasing talk … to improve that and also bill to a 21st century normal. Because their argument is usually this is just a waste products of taxpayer funds – hurricane after hurricane rebuilding the same manner you will have.”

In addition to exposing the rocks on the beaches, this year’s hurricanes also uncovered longstanding personal issues in the Virgin Islands. The federal government owes more than $2 billion to bondholders and lenders, which represents the best per capita debt of any status or U.S. territory – even Puerto Rico.

Schouten says the territory’s financial woes were magnified when a sizable oil refinery in St. Croix shuttered its doors in 2012.

“It had been the single largest private employer, plus they have to find other other folks too who are prepared to invest in the Virgin Islands and diversify the market,” she says.

Problems also remain about how precisely the government managed its funds. Officials have more and more relied on borrowed funds to use, and Schouten information that at times this year, the government only had a couple of days worth of functioning cash available.

Schouten recalls returning to St. Croix after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, when more than 80 percent of the island’s structures had been leveled. The storm established the island back 20 years, and discouraged tourists from visiting, she says.

In a statement this week, FEMA urged cultural institutions to use for disaster assistance. Schouten says there is usually concern that if too many American citizens keep the Virgin Islands, it’ll undermine the territory’s restoration.

“There is a sense that the Virgin Islands won’t be the Virgin Islands if too many people who are from there and make up the area in the culture keep,” she says. “But I really do think that the perception from local authorities is usually that they are going to get assistance.”

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