One of the territory’s new composite poles, supposed to be capable of withstanding 200 mile per hour winds, was toppled during Hurricane Dorian, but not by wind, Water and Power Authority spokesman Jean Greaux confirmed during a news conference with Gov. Albert Bryan on Friday.
The poles are much more expensive than traditional wooden poles but, with federal permission and funding, WAPA has been installing them territory-wide, in an effort to make the power grid more resilient in the face of increasing numbers of severe storms. WAPA is putting up more than 7,060 such poles and has already put up more than 1,300.
Reports that a pole had gone down on St. John raised concerns about their actual resilience, in light of their higher cost.
“We had a failure of one of the composite poles and we are looking into why that happened,” Greaux said.
He said their preliminary investigation found a large tree came down and toppled the pole.
“The pole (in Centerline Road on St. John) was fallen by a huge tree which snapped, came down on the primary services lines which brought the pole down. The pole was not compromised by winds or by a poor installation as some are suggesting,” Greaux said.
The pole is one of about 1,500 composite poles installed so far, he said.
The pole appears broken at the base in a video circulating on social media.
The poles have a 40 year warranty, WAPA previously reported.
Sporadic power outages on St. Thomas, St. John and to a lesser extent St. Croix were among the chief concerns of residents, Bryan said. Greaux reported there were still occasional pockets of outages on all three main islands but all feeders were restored. St. Croix had all feeders by 7:15 a.m. Thursday and had addressed all service interruptions by midday.
On St. John, Coral Bay was restored by midday Thursday and is fully restored.
On St. Thomas WAPA still has 25 to 30 isolated reports of power outages and all but one feeder back on. An island-wide outage struck around 11 p.m. and was fixed by midnight.
Feeder 7A should be fixed by mid-afternoon Friday, according to Greaux.
Areas around Savan lost potable water for awhile, due to power being out and WAPA being unable to pump the water.
Bryan said WAPA deserved credit for bringing power back in one day after a hurricane.
Meanwhile, he said that thanks to the federal government declaring a state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover 75 percent of cleanup and debris removal. But the territory must pay 25 percent.
Some 35 residents stayed in shelters, which closed at noon on Thursday.
“We had some generator failures … a lot of them have to be replaced and are beyond repair,” Bryan said. He said his administration is putting in place a new measure to have VITEMA be responsible for the generators. In the past, they have been taken care of by each individual facility, he said.
Seaports reopened at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport opened 5:30 on Thursday. At St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport, tourists stranded on St. Thomas have been able to leave and all airlines are now operating normally. Seaborne is only operating out of the airport and not seaplanes, due to some damage at their seaport.
Bryan said he had traveled throughout St. Thomas and most of St. John. Schneider Regional Medical Center and Myrah Keating Smith Health Center remained open before, during and after the storm, he said. Keating staff spent the storm at their temporary facility.
“We did have an emergency situation with a pregnant patient yesterday but we coordinated with FEMA to evacuate that person to St. Thomas,” Bryan said.
Asked about earlier reports that an elderly person had died during the storm, Bryan said it was still being investigated and he had no new information to report. The initial report indicated the death was not storm related and possibly of natural causes.
V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Col. Daryl Jaschen said the American Red Cross is a key partner and has blue tarps for temporary roofing solutions.
“They have 20 foot by 20 foot tarps and 20 foot by 40 foot tarps,” he said.
Red Cross officials will man phones to record information on home damage and arrange to give out tarps. The phone lines should be up from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, including the weekend and Labor Day holiday. Anyone in the St. Thomas/St. John district can call 340-774-0375 and on St. Croix, 340-778-5104.
“We want to return to normalcy as quickly as possible,” Bryan said during the news conference.
He said his administration has been giving interview after the storm to emphasize the territory is open for business and ready for the tourist season starting in November.
Editor’s Note: Video circulating on social media appears to show the pole snapped at the base. We are seeking clarification from WAPA.