The howling winds and incessant rains of hurricanes Irma and Maria left behind wind-blown roofs and flood-damaged homes within hours. Long-term recovery groups, nonprofit groups and the U.S. Virgin Islands government have collaborated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to build a path to resiliency.
“It takes a tremendous unified effort to restore and rebuild after the devastating 2017 storms,” said Adrienne L. Williams-Octalien of the USVI Office of Disaster Recovery. “The support that FEMA is providing is further bolstered through public/private partnerships aimed at ensuring the territory emerges more resilient than before.”
The catastrophic storms left most of the islands’ homes severely damaged or destroyed. Ione Yearwood and her daughter Alicia Malone made extensive repairs to their Estate Tutu home on St. Thomas through FEMA’s Permanent Housing Construction Program and savings.
Pictures that Malone took the day after Irma show an almost destroyed home with a blown-off roof, heavily damaged siding, rain-soaked belongings and blown-out windows. “No one could believe the damage that was done. The complete roof and porch went immediately (amid the height of Irma’s winds midafternoon Sept. 6, 2017),” said Yearwood.
“Lord knows why he did what he did. I would have never known of this (PHC) program. The FEMA office staff and working crew were professionals. I got the impression the guys were building this house for themselves. Those girls are so polite at the FEMA office,” said Yearwood.
Construction work began on the family’s home in February 2019, and most of the work was completed in April. Yearwood received the keys to the home from FEMA on May 3, 2019. “All the work at the home was able to get done through FEMA. The roof, interior, windows, cabinets, plumbing, kitchen and bathroom in about two months,” said Yearwood.
St. Johnian Hendrickson Griffith is making repairs to his Estate Pastory home with support from FEMA’s Individual Assistance program and the St. John Community Foundation’s Wind Retrofit Mitigation program.
Hendrickson said he is using funding from FEMA to repair beams below the home to support its foundation and repair the front and sidewalls of the kitchen, living and dining rooms. The Community Foundation’s retrofit program will administer repairs to the home’s roof and doors.
“Thank God the St. John Community Foundation is going to help me strengthen the roof and doors of the home. I am trying to really make sure the roof is more resilient for the next hurricane. I believe pieces from my neighbor’s roof hit my home during Hurricane Irma. An engineer hired by the St. John Community Foundation has designed the roof to make it more hurricane resistant,” said Griffith.
FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant program awarded the St. John Community Foundation $7 million to retrofit 97 homes on the island against hurricane-force wind, debris, rain and other related hazards.
The wind retrofit program includes the structural rebuilds and improvements to the roofs of residential homes. Additional hardening measures may include protecting building openings from windborne debris with impact windows or hurricane shutters, bracing gable end walls and strengthening the load-bearing capacity of the home.
“The St. John Community Foundation is continuing its work in the community building back St. John in a stronger, more resilient manner. With the help of FEMA and VITEMA, the Wind Retrofit Program will help ensure St. Johnians do not experience the widespread damage encountered during hurricanes Irma and Maria,” said Jon Eichner, the foundation’s interim executive director.
Navigating a path toward making St. Thomas and St. John more resilient to withstand disasters has created long-term partnerships and FEMA will be a partner at the table until the job is done.
“These programs will not only address hurricane-related damage, they are part of a much bigger picture of ensuring residents have resilient infrastructure in place to lessen the impacts of disasters,” said William Vogel, federal coordinating officer for the recovery. “Putting the adequate effort and focus into mitigation now ultimately helps individuals get back on their feet quickly in the future.”