The V.I. government will not distribute sandbags and does not plan to open shelters for the tropical weather system due to hit the territory Wednesday afternoon, VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen and Human Services Director Kimberley Causey-Gomez said at a Tuesday evening update on storm preparation.
Ports are tentatively scheduled to close at 4 p.m., Jaschen said.
The storm is expected to be a tropical storm when it passes by the U.S. Virgin Islands. But Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. urged residents to prepare as if it were a hurricane, saying that experience tells us storms can suddenly increase in strength.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, the storm was moving 23 miles per hour and had sustained winds of almost 40 miles per hour. Based on its current path, it should hit the territory Wednesday evening. Although the winds may not be extreme, it is expected to drop three to six inches of rain over a 12-hour period, Jaschen said.
The need for social distancing to avoid spreading COVID-19 conflicts with some of the usual pre-storm government actions.
“Hurricane preparation is being adjusted to minimize our threat to [transmit] COVID-19,” Jaschen said.
“Sandbags will not be distributed,” he said, due to insufficient time to prepare an alternative system that might allow for social distancing, he said.
He urged residents to “prepare for evacuation shelter plans with a safer at home or safer with a neighbor thought in mind.”
“At this point, we are not looking at opening up the shelters unless the governor indicates the threat is extremely high for our region,” Jaschen said.
Causey-Gomez said that the storm is “going to be a very heavy rain event,” and those with existing roof issues or in areas prone to flooding may face special problems. But “due to COVID-19, the government is not going to open congregate shelters at this time.”
But the 2020 hurricane season has been predicted to be an above-average one, and if a hurricane is forecast, the governor will decide, along with Human Services and other agencies, whether to open them. If they are opened, the government will give 48-hour notice to allow residents to prepare, she said.
“We have you, Human Services is here, ready to respond as needed.”
Bryan said there will be another update at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. It can be viewed on the Government House Facebook page.