St. Thomas

St. John

St.Croix

COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATES ON HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS AND ST. JOHN CELEBRATION

Published: Jun 11, 2024

ST. JOHN – The 35th Legislature of the Virgin Islands’ Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety, led by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens met in the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received a hurricane preparedness update, including an overview of the current hurricane season forecast and potential risks, updates on evacuation plans and shelter preparations and efforts to strengthen infrastructure resilience and communication strategies. The Committee also received an overview of safety and security efforts ahead of the 2024 St. John Celebration.

Daryl Jaschen, Director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, reminded the body that hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30. NOAA predicts an above-normal season with 17-25 named storms, 8-13 becoming hurricanes, and 4-7 major hurricanes (category 3-5. The Virgin Islands National Guard and Department of Human Services will manage two Points of Distribution (PODs) capable of distributing up to 5,000 meals per day until private businesses reopen.

Yvette Henry, Community Affairs Coordinator for the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services told lawmakers that the department is the lead agency for Emergency Support Function 6, which is mass care, emergency assistance, temporary housing, and human services annex. Upon a National Disaster Declaration issued by the Governor, VIDHS employees, all considered essential personnel, take on emergency support function responsibilities that allow them to operate under incident command. The she said shelters in the territory, available both pre and post landfall are the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and the Lockhart Elementary School on St. Thomas, the St. Croix Educational Complex and the DC Canegata Recreation Center on St. Croix, and the Gifft Hill School and the Adrian Senior Center on St. John. The Water Island Fire House is available post landfall as a shelter. 

Antonio Stevens, Director of the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Services reminded the body that in the event of a hurricane, VIFEMS serves as the coordinating agency for Emergency Support Functions.  Stevens informed the body of efforts to bring several apparatuses back into service as well as the ordering of over $100,000 in medical supplies and equipment to improve readiness. Stevens reassured the body that VIFEMS stands ready to support the territory. 

In the event of a hurricane in St. John, crews assigned to the Cruz Bay Fire station will be relocated to the Westin Resort, as that station is currently housed in a modular facility. Operations based out of the Morris DeCastro Clinic and the Coral Bay Fire Station will remain unchanged. The ambulance boat, the Star of Life will continue to operate until the US Coast Guard closes the port. Once the port is closed, the boat will be secured.  If the boat is damaged, an MOU is in place with Caneel Bay for use of their vessel. On St. Thomas, the Fortuna Fire station will be closed if a hurricane over a Category 1 is expected. Crews and equipment will be reassigned to the Emile Berry Fire Station in Dorothea. In St. Croix, the Cotton Valley Fire Station may be closed depending on the storm severity. 

Mario Brooks, Assistant Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department said upon the governor’s declaration of a pre-landfall state of emergency, all executive branch law enforcement officers in the territory report to the police commissioner, then making themselves available for assignments. The VIPD remains responsive to 911 calls until the onset of tropical storm force winds (39mph), after which they shelter in place. 

Reuben Jennings, the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Public Works stated that the department plays a critical role in disaster preparedness. Along with the Waste Management Authority, DPW manages issues where the focus is route clearance, debris management and monitoring, and engineering support. The department is responsible for the distribution of sandbags, storm water drainage, and route clearance. Chairman Gittens voiced concern over a suitable location of a shelter on the western side of St. Croix, as well as ensuring that generators were at these sites to assist individuals with special devices and medications. Chairman Gittens voiced disappointment that during power outages, fire stations did not have power.

Later in the day, lawmakers received an update on the 2024 St. John Celebration from Ian Turnbull, Director of the Division of Festivals, who highlighted the planning efforts involving various stakeholders. Key topics included community health and safety, and location preservation for events such as the Prince and Princess Pageant, Queen Show, Boat Race, Panorama, Food Fair, J’ouvert, 4th of July, and Fireworks display. The St. John Celebration Village is set to open on June 28, with 18 booths. 

There will be seven portable restrooms near the village and seven near the food fair venue. St. Thomas-St. John Chief of Police Steven Phillip assured comprehensive and innovative safety strategies, including a centralized real-time information center for surveillance and communication, utilizing cameras, drones, and mobile surveillance around the Downtown Cruz Bay area and surrounding areas to ensure safety.

Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Health Reuben Molloy said monitoring food safety during key events, with enforcement officers ensuring compliance with handling, preparation, and temperature control measures is important. He said all food vendors must obtain permits from the Virgin Islands Department of Health. Horace Graham, Assistant Director of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, stressed the importance of vendor licensing and adherence to agreements, and preventing unauthorized activities. Reuben Jennings, Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, said there are plans to repair potholes on the parade route and provide barricades for the celebration. Shena Esannason, St. John Solid Waste Collections Manager from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority informed the body of plans to clean and prepare the Cruz Bay Parking lot and the National Park’s ball field for the opening of the Adult and Children’s village. Bins will be available for trash disposal. There will be nightly cleanup of the village, and the entire Cruz Bay area will be cleaned every morning by 6am. She said they will also have the authority’s enforcement team on patrol as crews conduct clean ups.

Chairman Gittens stated that the safety and the wellbeing of all is of the utmost importance. 

Senators present at today’s Committee meeting included Kenneth L. Gittens, Ray Fonseca, Diane T. Capehart, Dwayne M. Degraff, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan E. James, Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, and Milton E. Potter.

The Division of Public Affairs is committed to providing the community with accurate information on legislative proceedings and other events at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. Visit legvi.org.              

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