MAPP TO FEMA: ‘We Must Be Able To Protect Lives In The Event of A Storm This Year’
CHRISTIANSTED — Governor Kenneth Mapp met with Federal Emergency Management Agency leadership on Tuesday to discuss advancing the rebuild and repair of Virgin Islands schools, hospitals and public housing and to share his concerns about protecting residents in the event of a major storm this season.
Governor Mapp explained to FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long and his team that the Virgin Islands had traditionally relied on its schools to serve as shelters, however, most of the territory’s campuses were too damaged to be used this hurricane season.
The chief executive said that more Virgin Islanders would require shelter this year given that many homes are only protected by tarps or temporary repairs while the territory awaits funding for resilient and permanent housing reconstruction. In a letter to the FEMA head, the governor reiterated the concerns he expressed at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I am imploring you to act now and help us to pre-position immediate sheltering options for the people of the Virgin Islands as we brace for what is expected to be another busy hurricane season,” Mapp wrote. “We are asking you to consider all possibilities, including preparing to provide aircraft and cruise ships in advance of a storm to evacuate as many people as feasible to safety until the storm passes.”
Mapp said it was important for federal officials to understand that Virgin Islanders do not have the option to simply drive away from an impending storm and that, under current conditions, residents simply cannot be expected to ride out hurricanes as they have in the past.
“Virgin Islanders are rightfully anxious and concerned about our ability to ensure their protection from any potential storms this season,” he said.
Speeding up the release of federal funds for repairs to homes and schools remains imperative and much of the Governor’s discussions with FEMA focused on finances and accelerating payments to contractors, especially those employing Virgin Islanders.
“We know that hundreds of millions of dollars have already been allocated to the Virgin Islands and will eventually come after all of the federal review processes, but we need the funding now,” Mapp said. “It is like we are sitting on a lake of freshwater and can’t get anything to drink.”
During the meeting, FEMA committed to providing additional staff to review the project worksheets and other paperwork required to release funds. Mapp said he will also meet with Congressional leaders and Trump Administration officials in the coming weeks to discuss waivers and changes to federal laws that would facilitate funding for permanent repairs to private homes in the Virgin Islands.
Administrator Long said he would continue to strongly support local recovery efforts and wanted to assist in fulfilling the governor’s vision for rebuilding a stronger Virgin Islands.
“I appreciate the opportunity to meet with the Governor today and discuss this progress and the need to focus not just on recovery, but preparedness for the 2018 Hurricane Season as well,” Long said. “We will continue to partner with and support the territory and Governor Mapp throughout the recovery from and preparations for any disaster. The governor is a strong partner and is leading an outcome-driven recovery focused on resilience for the territory.”