Continuous rainfall that’s hammered the territory over the past week is expected to be gone by Monday as drier weather moves in, but residents are urged to "exercise caution" until then — particularly when traveling down damaged roadways, government officials said Thursday.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Rafael Mojica said there’s still a frontal band over Puerto Rico that’s expected to move southeast over the next 12 to 24 hours, which will begin to affect the territory late Thursday night to early Friday morning, bringing another half-inch to an inch of rainfall to St. Croix and less for St. Thomas-St. John.
Because of that, a flash flood watch is still in effect until Friday morning, but there should be sunnier skies and cooler temperatures by Monday, he said during an afternoon conference call with reporters.
Marine conditions, however, will deteriorate Friday night and continue into Saturday as a large swell from the north begins to invade the V.I. coastal waters, Mojica added.
Based on what’s forecasted to be a "gradual" improvement in the weather, government offices will resume operations Friday, along with all schools on St. Thomas-St. John.
On St. Croix, heavier water and mud damage will keep four public schools — Claude O. Markoe and Arthur Richards elementary schools, along with Alexander Henderson and John H. Woodson junior high schools — closed Friday, while the rest will be open.
Speaking during the conference call, Terry said the schools on St. Thomas-St. John were in "pretty good shape" after the deluge, with only Addelita Cancryn Junior High and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School taking on water. St. Croix schools fared a bit worse as flooding has been widespread throughout the island, so both government and private contractors will be brought into the four schools Friday to fix up the damage.
St. Croix reported about 3.31 inches of rainfall at the end of Wednesday afternoon, but saw up to seven inches in some areas — particularly on the northwestern side of the island, Mojica said, adding that the additional rainfall Thursday night or Friday morning could exacerbate the flooding.
St. Thomas-St. John, meanwhile, has recorded about 4 inches of rainfall since Sunday, he said. Mojica added that the last comparable bout of severe flooding occurred in 1974, bringing 11 inches of rain to St. Croix over a five-hour period, and seven inches of rain to St. Thomas-St. John.
Speaking during the conference call, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said he and Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis toured both districts Wednesday with Public Works, V.I. National Guard and V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency officials, who are still making damage assessments.
At this point, all major roads in the territory are passable, but deJongh still urged residents to stay off them as long as possible, until all the debris is cleared away. The heavy rains from storms Earl, Otto and Tomas have clearly impacted the territory’s infrastructure, bringing damage to ongoing projects and more potholes, and deJongh also urged residents to stay patient while the weather calms down and Public Works crews make the rounds for repairs.
More specifically, Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said areas with the most damage are: Centerline Road and Bordeaux on St. John, which continues to experience road and mud slides; the section of roadway that was washed away next to the Paul E. Joseph Stadium on St. Croix; and Mafolie Hill, Brookman Road and parts of Tutu on St. Thomas, where there was extensive water and debris on the roads.
Smalls cautioned that any additional rain can cause swelling on the roadways and urged residents to avoid "ponding water," where they might not be able to see what kind of deterioration has occurred underneath.
"We know there’s a significant amount of potholes, and as soon as the rain subsides, we will take care of them," Smalls said, adding that he’s continued to keep in touch with Federal Highway Administration officials about funding for repairs, which he said are ultimately going to be "permanently fixed."
As Public Works prepares to work with VITEMA to figure out what the overall damage is, deJongh said he will also be working closely with the Legislature to identify some local funding to help cover the costs.
VITEMA head Mark Walters said his team has "unofficially" asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a damage assessment but was not sure whether the territory would hit the $1 million threshold required for public assistance. He said the various agencies will begin to look over their damage Friday, and that the government will be doing damage assessments for residents and families starting Monday.