President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration this week for the Virgin Islands, allowing federal funds to aid the recovery from the effects of Tropical Storm Otto in October, according to Government House.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance grants reimburse local governments for the cost of eligible emergency protective measures, such as debris removal. It can fund the repair, restoration, reconstruction or replacement of public infrastructure such as roads and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and contents, public utilities and parks, and other recreational facilities damaged during a disaster, according to Government House. Some non-profit organizations also may qualify for aid to restore facilities that provide quasi-governmental services.
The declaration also allows the local government and non-profit organizations to apply to the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which funds projects that prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural hazards.
From Oct. 1 – 8, the V.I. was pummeled by heavy rains that caused severe flooding, mudslides and landslides, and led to the declaration of a state of emergency from Oct. 5-9. The rainfall was associated with the tropical weather system that became Tropical Storm Otto on Oct. 7. The storm strengthened into Hurricane Otto the next day.
Rain bands from Otto’s tail lashed the Virgin Islands for many days, pulling moist and unstable tropical air northward across the islands, generating numerous showers and thunderstorms as well as strong gusty winds inland and over water.
According to the National Weather Service, record rainfall amounts accumulated across the islands during the eight-day period.
Following damage assessments territory-wide, Gov. John deJongh Jr. requested that Obama declare a major disaster for the Virgin Islands in accordance with the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, according to Government House.
“The persistent rainfall associated with Hurricane Otto soaked the territory, overwhelming our major drainage systems as debris runoff from hillsides clogged culverts, causing gutters and streams to overflow,” deJongh wrote in the request. “Roadways crumbled beneath several inches of rain, creating substantial road erosion and developing sinkholes as manholes covers dislodged after storm-water infiltrated the sewer system.”
The deluge forced the government and public schools to close from Oct. 6 – 8. Otto is estimated to have caused more than $3 million in damage to the territory’s infrastructure, based on the assessments by local government agencies and compiled by Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, according to Government House. DeJongh has appointed VITEMA Director Mark Walters as the territorial coordinating officer for the local government’s response and recovery effort.
FEMA has named Philip Parr as the federal coordinating officer for the federal recovery operations in the territory. A FEMA team is already in the V.I. in response to Hurricane Earl in late August and has already established a joint field office to work with local government agencies on documenting expenses.