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Don't Look North for Help if Disaster Strikes V.I.

Sept. 1, 2005 –– Don't look to the federal government to send much help should the Virgin Islands get blasted with a hurricane, was the word from V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency officials as people from various St. John agencies met Thursday to fine tune the island's hurricane response plans.
Steve Parris, VITEMA's deputy director on St. Thomas, said plans worked out with the federal agencies for this hurricane season are "out the door" given the magnitude of the unprecedented disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Red Cross representative Carol McGuinness said that her agency wasn't "looking at getting a lot of help from the states because of New Orleans."
Additionally, Parris and others said St. John must stand on its own feet in the event a hurricane hits because of its location away from the St. Thomas hub.
"When it comes to a disaster, it's like every place else is a thousand miles away," St. John's deputy director, Alvis Christian, said.
He said that St. John's residents and emergency responders always step up to the plate when a disaster strikes.
Ira Wade, deputy Public Works director, said the island must be prepared to stand alone for at least four or five days until relief comes across Pillsbury Sound from St. Thomas.
Many St. John agencies face the same hurdle –– some, and in some cases, most of their staff lives on St. Thomas. This means it may be impossible for them to get to work.
Deputy Fire Chief Brian Chapman said 66 percent of his staff calls St. Thomas home.
However, agency representatives said they are all prepared to work together to keep the island afloat.
Agencies also face difficulty getting fuel for their vehicles because the only fuel supplier with a government contract, the Texaco Station, hasn't been paid.
"Sergeant Hendricks put gas in the car and paid for it himself," Police Officer Bridget Conow said.
Wade said that Public Works faces the gas snafu every five or six weeks because the Property and Procurement Department submits the paperwork late.
"Every five or six weeks we have to go through the misery of not knowing whether we'll have fuel, and I can't pick up garbage if I don't have fuel," he said.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, who attended the meeting, said he contacted the Finance Department to find out what's holding up the payment.
Christian said that VITEMA has pre-positioned supplies at Bordeaux, Fish Bay, Mandahl, and the East End so residents in those areas will get help should the roads be impassable when a storm hits.
"There will be too many people affected if something happens to Centerline Road," Christian said.
St. John has two main roads, Centerline Road and the North Shore Road. However, the North Shore Road intersects with Centerline Road near Coral Bay, leaving Centerline Road as the only main artery to the fast-growing eastern end of the island.
Wade said that access is available through Bordeaux Road, but the road remains unpaved for about a mile with some very bumpy sections.
The Red Cross has recently trained people to be shelter managers. Christian said that Emmaus Moravian Church, Bethany Moravian Church and the Methodist Church will serve as primary shelters. Should those structures experience damage, the John's Folly Learning Institute, the St. John School on Gifft Hill and the Clarice Thomas Annex of Julius E. Sprauve School will serve as back-up shelters.
Christian said that the Westin Resort and Villas is lined up to serve as an emergency medical center in case something happens to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center.
"And their large freezers could be used as morgues," he said of the Westin.
Starfish Market manager Lenyse Shomo said the store has stocked up on canned goods.
McGuinness said that St. John is sending one person at a time to volunteer at the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She said only one will be gone because they may be needed on St. John should a hurricane hit.
Parris said he attended the recent National Hurricane Conference held in New Orleans.
"New Orleans got caught with its pants down," he said, implying that St. John doesn't want to find itself in the same position.

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