ST CROIX, USVI — US President Donald Trump has assured US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp of his continuing support for the territory’s hurricane recovery efforts.
Updating reporters at Government House, St Croix, on Tuesday, Governor Mapp described his meeting with the US president, aboard the USS Kearsarge as “very productive,” adding he did not know of “any country on the planet … today that can respond to a disaster like … the United States of America.”
Reacting and responding to a disaster is no easy task, the governor observed, adding: “We as Americans, we’re getting better at this process. It’s not perfect, but we’re getting better at it.”
Mona Barnes, director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), said what stood out for her was Trump and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator William “Brock” Long saying they were with the US Virgin Islands for the long haul.
“I took that and I saw the sincerity in which it was said, and so I say to the people of the Virgin Islands, truly, I am proud to be an American and you should, too,” she said.
Trump expressed his support for a special community disaster loan under the Stafford Act, which needs approval of the US Congress, and urged close collaboration between the White House and the USVI teams as they work towards securing approval.
Funding for infrastructure repairs, including rebuilding the islands’ hospitals and schools, was also on the agenda. The governor told Trump such urgent repairs would cost about $500 to $750 million.
He said the assessments done by FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the government would determine what that final number would be.
“(We’ve) lost two complete hospitals and the appurtenant health facilities, (we’ve) lost four schools, (we’ve) lost a number of government buildings and infrastructure,” Mapp said, explaining he didn’t want to understate the repair costs.
Mapp expressed concern about the slow pace of the Blue Roof program and reported he will meet with Lieutenant General Todd Semonite from the US Army Corps of Engineers on Friday to discuss helping residents with badly damaged roofs.
Trump urged the governor to continue working closely with the FEMA administrator and other federal agencies, whom the governor thanked for assisting with the recovery efforts.
“We’ve made this progress because we can say from a real perspective, all hands are on deck. We’re all working towards a common goal of the recovery of the territory,” the governor said, noting that US Virgin Islanders’ “fortitude” and “ability to stay the course” have been the keys to the territory’s recovery.
“I’ve been in four or five hurricanes, and in less than a month, I think we’ve made very good progress,” Mapp said, adding that he was looking forward to the next 30 days.
Mapp thanked the people of the US Virgin Islands for their productive criticism and ideas to improve the recovery process, and commended them for their sense of community and kindness, highlighting those who have taken in others in need, giving them clothes, and cooking hot meals for the community.
“At the end of the day, the Virgin Islands, and the people of the Virgin Islands, are going to be a lot better off than before Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Maria came to our shores,” he said.
The governor, who said he looked forward to hosting Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, expressed the territory’s sincere condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured by a gunman in Las Vegas, Nevada, this week.
Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty said assessments of the readiness of hotels and attractions across the territory to resume operations are continuing. Signalling an improvement in air services, she reported the Department of Tourism would no longer facilitate mercy missions out of the territory. She again thanked both cruise and airline partners for helping to evacuate close to 5,000 residents and visitors impacted by the storms.
Nicholson-Doty said, while airline schedules normalize over the next two weeks, American Airlines will serve St Thomas with two daily flights from Miami, and St Croix with a daily service through mid-December. She said JetBlue would serve the St Croix-Fort Lauderdale market with nonstop service over the next few days, pending the reopening of Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. Cape Air and Seaborne are expected to resume flights later this week between St Croix and Puerto Rico. Both airlines are currently plying the St Thomas-San Juan route, while Seaborne continues to operate between downtown Charlotte Amalie and downtown Christiansted.
The tourism commissioner reported a positive and productive debriefing with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and five of its member cruise lines and that site visits were planned with the cruise lines this month.