The governor of the US Virgin Islands, Kenneth Mapp, pledged to have 90% of the island’s power restored by Christmas day after Hurricanes Irma and Maria ruined the US Virgin Islands’ electrical grid in September. This was a very ambitious target. While it does not appear Mapp met that target (his claims otherwise notwithstanding), he still managed to come pretty dang close:
Months after two Category 5 hurricanes pummeled the United States Virgin Islands, officials said Tuesday that power has been restored to 92 percent of customers, a significant improvement from even a month ago, when about half of them remained in the dark.
Bringing power back up may help speed recovery in other areas that require basic infrastructure to operate, experts say, even as Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp estimated Tuesday that there was a long way to go after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Hospitals that sustained major structural damage on the islands, home to some 103,000 people mainly on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, continue to evacuate patients in serious condition to the mainland, Mr. Mapp said in an interview. Schools that have managed to reopen are juggling double sessions to accommodate students, and tourism — the economy’s lifeblood — is still slow, Mr. Mapp said.
The USVI did not accomplish this on its own, of course. They received massive assistance from the National Guard, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and FEMA, as well as hundreds of workers from the mainland US coming to assist. Bloomberg Philanthropies also sent logistics experts to assist in the rebuilding as well, as Bloomberg co-founder Thomas Secunda is a long-time resident of St. John.
Ultimately, thousands of poles and transformers, and millions of feet of wire were required for the massive repair job. Much of the material had to be imported from the mainland, so managing the logistics of the electricity restoration effort was a huge and difficult task. It is a noteworthy accomplishment that after about three and a half months the US and USVI governments managed to rebuild a destroyed electrical grid across three different islands.
This does not mean the Virgin Islands’ problems are over, of course. The islands’ moribund economy is still crushed by a gigantic debt burden that it has no hope of ever repaying, and they were downgraded deep into junk status by the ratings agencies, before S&P and Fitch were both forced to withdraw the ratings entirely after the government stopped sharing data with them.
Governor Mapp has also said upgrading the islands’ electrical grid to protect it from destruction by future hurricanes will cost nearly a billion dollars. The islands’ debt and financial problems make acquiring such money exceedingly challenging. It is unlikely they will be able to undertake this project without significant assistance from the Trump administration.
The tourism industry, the islands’ lifeblood, has taken severe damage due to both the physical destruction of resorts as well as the islands’ beautiful beaches and vegetation being ruined by the hurricane as well. Tourism in the Virgin Islands will likely take years to completely recover.
The relative success of the Virgin Islands’ effort to repair their grid stands in contrast to Puerto Rico, which is only around 60% repaired, and mired in huge corruption scandals as well.