MONDAY, 2ND SEPTEMBER, 2019
Mr. Speaker, this morning I give God many thanks for extending His mercies unto this Territory as we weathered Hurricane Dorian, first as a Tropical Storm and then as a Category 1 Hurricane on Wednesday, August 28.
Those of us who were monitoring the advisories would recall that we were not expecting Dorian to track near enough to the Territory to have a major impact.
However, late Tuesday afternoon, it was discovered that Dorian had moved further northward than forecasted, and was 60 miles closer to the BVI, placing the centre just south of Tortola.
This upgraded our alert level, and out of nowhere we were faced with very strong winds and very heavy rains, much beyond what we had expected.
Then, on Wednesday, the storm intensified to hurricane strength while within range of the Territory. Again, this was not what was expected.
After consulting with me, His Excellency the Governor, activated the National Emergency Operations Centre for we were under a Hurricane Watch.
Subsequently, the Governor announced that a curfew would take effect from 2:00p.m, Wednesday, August 28 to 6:00a.m., Thursday, August 29. Only emergency responders and those providing essential services were allowed to be on the road.
Residents and members of the business community were urged to remain off the road for their own safety and to allow emergency responders to work without being hampered.
Mr Speaker, all praise and thanks is due to God, for after Hurricane Dorian left our shores, we had no reports of loss of lives, no serious injuries, no major property damage, no crimes or problems in relation to businesses being compromised within the Territory.
We did, however, experience some major flooding on the outskirts of Road Town with some damage to buildings reported and debris on some roads in those areas. Our neighbours in St Thomas and St Croix, from reports, were harder hit, and they are recovering.
As a Government, we have seen some positive results with the work that we started to do through the Ministry of Transportation, Works and Utilities in anticipation of the 2019 Hurricane Season.
You will recall that some time ago, Minister Kye Rymer had announced that his team at the Ministry and respective departments were intensifying efforts to have the ghuts and major watercourses throughout the Territory cleaned and cleared of debris.
This preventative work had been taking place over the past few weeks with the objective of helping to reduce the impact of the heavy rains on vulnerable areas. Indeed, we did see some areas where there were successes and we will continue to do work throughout the Territory to address other vulnerable and hotspot areas.
Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased and proud of the way the people of the Virgin Islands conducted themselves during the period of the passage of Hurricane Dorian, given the sudden turn of events and the short preparation time that we had.
We all rose to the occasion, we banded together as a community. We prepared our homes, offices and businesses for the unknown. We ensured that the vulnerable among us were looked after. We abided by the law, obeying the short curfew, keeping ourselves out of danger while allowing essential workers to carry out their operations without interruption.
For this our people must be commended.
I wish to thank the team at the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) for keeping us well informed and coordinating the response.
I know that meteorologists are having difficulties predicting the direct path of hurricanes, this goes to tell you that while science over decades have understood the behaviour of hurricanes, the forces of nature belongs to the Creator who made Heaven and the Earth.
I wish to especially thank the first responders and other employees in the public service and statutory agencies who left the comfort of their homes and their concerned family members and mobilised and worked tirelessly to ensure that the needs of all those who required assistance were addressed. I also thank all those officers who came out after the hurricane to help restore things to a state of normalcy.
Mr. Speaker, one issue that emerged during this event is the fact that many of our citizens continue to suffer with lingering effects of the trauma of their experiences with Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2007.
For many, Mr Speaker, the arrival of Dorian caused them to relive some of the horrors and anxiety of what they went through just two short years ago.
Mr. Speaker, the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of our people is of optimum importance, and in that regard, I have asked the Honourable Minister of Health and Social Development to have his team examine the issue and to offer proposals on how we can help our people to cope with and overcome the effects which that experience had on their psyche.
And as we reflect on the havoc that these powerful storms wreaked, Mr Speaker, we must turn our hearts, minds and prayers to our Caribbean brothers and sisters in The Bahamas who, as we speak, continue to be battered by Dorian, which is now a Category 5 hurricane.
Mr. Speaker, from around midday yesterday and this morning, via social media and other information channels, we have been getting a small glimpse of the destruction and suffering delivered on the residents of Great Abaco by the direct hit from Hurricane Dorian.
The scene is being described as catastrophic.
Overnight, Dorian tracked further south than initially forecasted, and now it is hitting the Grand Bahama with winds of 270 km/h as it creeps across the centre of the island at 2 km/h. Mr. Speaker, I renew my call for us to pray for our neighbours, so that God will give them the strength to get through this.
Mr Speaker, I spoke with the Prime Minister of Bahamas, Dr. Hubert Minnis, at length yesterday. He was hopeful. I shared with him that the people in the BVI is praying for his people. I told him that having gone through the experience in 2017, BVI is more than willing to assist with providing advice on the best practices as they seek to recover.
Many Virgin Islands residents who have seen the images out of The Bahamas have sounded the alarm that there is no point in waiting for any official appeal or declaration, to begin gathering relief supplies to help our neighbours.
Indeed, Mr Speaker, our people can empathize with the situation across there based on our own experience. And we are fully aware that the flat terrain of The Bahamas can make things worse.
I would like to offer a suggestion to our Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) who would want to undertake the collection of medical supplies, non-perishable food items, clothing and other items. Come together, pool your human and other resources, and coordinate your efforts with each other. More can be achieved in this way.
The DDM has also indicated it is on standby to offer assistance. I would encourage persons who are desirous of contributing with relief efforts to contact and coordinate with the DDM.
I also wish to advise, Mr Speaker, that I have been in contact with our colleagues in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The OECS Member States are also working to coordinate their respective efforts for the collection and delivery of relief supplies.
I can also state that I have contacted some of the companies operating in the BVI that have resources such as barges, and asked them to be on standby to assist in delivering supplies once the all-clear is given for them to sail to The Bahamas.
Mr Speaker, we must also direct our thoughts to our relatives and friends who are presently in Florida, and those who have interests there, since after leaving The Bahamas, Dorian is forecasted to head towards the United States as a very powerful hurricane.
I have already instructed my office to get the “Whatsapp Chat” going so that we know where our people are in Florida. I know that during times of emergencies people look out for their own. My Government and I are genuinely concerned about the safety of our students and Virgin Islanders who are living in Florida. We are concerned about their safety and want to reassure them that we are here for them.
I am encouraging families to please check in on their whereabouts and do whatever you can to help them as they make preparations.
I am urging the public that if you have family in Florida to please contact the Premier’s Office at 468-2152 and give us their name and contact number so that they can be included on the chat.
I continue to petition God to please keep all those in the path of Hurricane Dorian protected, for they need you now more than ever. Let us continue to pray for their safety.
Mr. Speaker, we must be ever mindful that we are not out of the hurricane season as yet. So, we must remain, as our Vigilate indicates, watchful, and we must continue to be ready and stay ready during this most active time of the year.
This morning, the DDM sent out an advisory stating that there are multiple systems now in the Atlantic. Let us continue to monitor the weather as we are now in the high point of the season. Continue to review plans, conduct necessary preparations and be prepared, and of course, continue to pray.
I thank you.