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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024
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What If It Happened Here?

Dear Editor,
My family relocated to the Virgin Islands in September of 1993. We learned the hardships of major weather systems with the onset of Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. Yes, I have heard of the situation following Hurricane Hugo in our beautiful home, but fortunately, my family did not have to endure the hardships brought on by that terrible storm.
As I watched the coverage of the "rescue and recovery operations" of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I wondered how our government in the Virgin Islands would respond to a storm of that magnitude. Yes, the state and local governments of New Orleans ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, but that plan basically said when so ordered, all citizens must find their own way out. Not to mention it was too late in coming and was not enforced. This did not allow for people who could not comply with the order due to economic, medical or other reasons. And then, you had the additional problem of the levy breeches, a situation that has been predicted and ignored for years. Compound that with the fact that state and city officials were ineffective in asking for federal help and, in fact, refused an offer to federalize the rescue/recovery effort. This is not to say the federal government is not without blame. It is clear that government dropped the ball on the local, state and federal levels.
Now imagine a killer storm taking aim at the Virgin Islands. We have the same inadequacies here as existed this summer along the Gulf coast, only worse. Our government is inefficient, spineless and ineffectual due to corruption, nepotism and cronyism. Couple that with the fact that our shelters, for the main part, are schools that have not had maintenance and are not adequate for our students, let alone serving as a shelter for our population. Now ask yourselves, what would happen if it were determined to order a mandatory evacuation of the territory due to a storm or other disaster? Scary thought, isn't it? None of us has the option of hopping into our cars and driving out of danger. Our government would stall, hold committee meetings and make speeches about preparedness while our officials would be leaving the islands at taxpayers' expense, take their bank accounts with them and then, return after the devastation, tour the area by air, and ask the federal government to give us charity. Of course, several years after, they would request the feds to "forgive" our debt in order to balance our budget and continue business as usual.
The officials of New Orleans, Louisiana and the federal government have known for years the effects of a major storm on New Orleans. Their plan has proven to be a disaster in itself. And so, Governor Turnbull, I challenge you and your appointed officials to inform our public exactly what your plans are should the unthinkable come about. How do you plan to evacuate the territory? Are we to herd ourselves into shelters that are already leaking and have failing plumbing? Will we have to endure an understaffed and ill-equipped police force trying to restore order in a lawless society while thugs rule the streets, and we have to dodge bullets while burying our dead? This scenario is not a community that I, nor the majority of our population, would care to participate in.
Do I really expect an answer to this challenge? Unfortunately, I do not. I fully expect this challenge to go unanswered, as has been the case with all major criticism of our local government. A non-responsive and ineffectual government is just one of the "benefits" of choosing the territory as our home. Citizens of these beautiful islands, political change must occur before something as unthinkable as Katrina strikes here. Our local government's business as usual attitude will not serve us during a major disaster. What we need in government are statesmen, not politicians. Are there any statesmen here who are willing to take up the challenge? Can they be elected? Would the voters of the Virgin Islands have the courage to make the change? Sadly, having been here almost 13 years, I doubt it. And so, like Chicken Little, my family will continue enjoying this American Paradise until the unthinkable happens.
Lenny Stiles
St. Croix

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence tosource@viaccess.net

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