A little more than a week after feeling the wrath of hurricane Irma and dodging for the most part hurricane Jose, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and wider Caribbean is bracing for yet another category 5 storm, hurricane Maria. The storm intensified rapidly in 36 hours from a category 1 storm of some concern, to an imminent threat to the region. Maria made landfall on Dominica this morning. While communication is still limited, initial reports suggest there was substantial damage to that island. Groups are already mobilizing to assist once they are able to make contact.
At 5PM AST hurricane Maria was moving WNW slowly toward the BVI at 10MPH, with maximum sustained winds of 165MPH, and located some 80 miles SE of St. Croix. The eye of hurricane Maria was located near latitude 16.8 North, longitude 64.0 West. The storm is expected to begin affecting the BVI late Tuesday night, into Wednesday morning or noon. At this trajectory the eye should pass just south of the BVI but sudden changes are possible.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:
- St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- British Virgin Islands
- Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques
- Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata
Travel and Ports
For obvious safety reasons all air and sea transport to the BVI has been suspended until the storm passes and authorities give an “All Clear”. The Government plans to open the Airport for commercial flights as soon as possible. The airport tower is operating on supplemental power, which only allows it to make contact with pilots within a 10 mile radius. For these reasons aircraft are asked to obtain pre-clearance before departure by contacting the tower on Satellite Phone #881651477456. Port Purcell is still the main sea port of entry. Vessels can make contact on VHF 16.
Distribution of Aid
BVI Department of Disaster Management (BVIDDM), British Military, local volunteers and the BVI Rotary Family are coordinating a massive distribution network. Mr. Joseph Ryan, of the Rotary Club of Road Town is one of the lead coordinators, guiding the teams through sorting and distributing aid to all districts. Several truck loads of aid have already been delivered, with more expected to move quickly after Maria. Relief teams distributed hundreds of tarps to assist persons with compromised roofs. However, the BVIDDM is encouraging persons to delay installing these tarps if possible, to avoid them sustaining damage from the next storm.
The BVIDDM published lists of all distribution sites and emergency shelters so persons are aware of where to get assistance.
Volunteers on the ground and abroad continue working to deliver much needed aid to the BVI. High on the priority list are tarps, generators, and other food items.
Hurricane Maria Preparation
With hurricane Maria fast approaching, Governor Jaspert in consultation with Premier Smith has extended the curfew from Monday 6PM until the All Clear is given. This will enable relief crews to work more efficiently on clearing debris, roads, and ghuts to minimize flooding. Persons in low lying areas are urged to consider moving to a shelter or alternate location.
Communication & Electricity
Telcom networks made significant progress this week restoring coverage to most of the Road Town area, and other areas across Tortola and Virgin Gorda. This made coordinating relief efforts and general contact with the outside much more fluid. Premier Smith, BVIDDM and other official channels are using all media available to communicate important information daily to the public, including radio, social media and daily community meetings across the territory.
The BVI Electricity Corporation and teams of linesmen from other islands will continue rebuilding the power distribution network. So far the main Pockwood Pond power station and Long Bush sub-station are functioning. Power is restored at Peebles Hospital and other key areas in Road Town, giving the town a renewed sense of life.
A joint operation of British Military, local, regional, and UK police recaptured over 100 escaped prisoners, with more expected over the coming days. This team also secured the perimeter fence and other structures at the prison. It was interesting to note that several prisoners checked on their families after hurricane Irma and voluntarily returned to help repair the prison. The increase in security has greatly reduced occurrence of crime. This is in contrast to various international news houses erroneously exaggerating the situation and using photos of looting in other islands besides the BVI to accompany the sensationalized headlines.
Banking and Business
Banks, ATMs, Supermarkets, Gas Stations, Hardware Stores, Bakeries, Insurance Companies and other business came back on board this week providing more regular service. Financial Service institutions are assessing damage to their offices while serving clients directly from the BVI or remote locations. The BVI Financial Services Commission, Company Registry and VIRRGIN system are functioning. Once the weather stabilizes, tourism related businesses are expected to begin repairs with plans to welcome guests as soon as possible.
BVI musician and school teacher Akim Johnson was spotted keeping the vibe alive with beautiful steel pan music at Peebles Hospital. The BVI Irma Relief team is busy vetting more monetary and supplies donation sites. The BVI New York community held meetings this week with the BVI Tourist Board, and Benito Wheatley, Director of the BVI London Office to focus their relief efforts.
As gusty winds already start to affect the BVI, we encourage all concerned to keep our people in their thoughts and prayers.
- Dalan Vanterpool (@dalanv)
BVI Irma Relief (@BVIIrmaRelief)