With today marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Irma making landfall on the Virgin Islands, Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley used the opportunity to reflect on the huge process made in infrastructural development and recovery since the devastation in 2017.
The Premier, in his speech earlier today, noted the rainfall over the last few days engenders unpleasant memories of the most catastrophic disaster in the history of the territory. He noted the experience was harrowing for many people and the category-five hurricane devastated homes, public buildings, infrastructure, personal possessions, livestock, businesses, livelihoods, industries, and the economy.
“Estimates put the immediate damage in the region of $2.3 billion. We lost four lives directly to the event, and many others indirectly afterwards, due to physical and emotional causes. Today, we remember the departed and we pray for them and their families. At the moment, the devastation and the losses seemed and felt insurmountable. But it is at low points like these, that we discover who we truly are, and what we are made of BVI strong,” Dr Wheatley said.
The Premier said history will reflect that in the aftermath of Irma and Hurricane Maria just two weeks later, the indomitable spirit and resilience of the Virgin Islands
people pushed forward on the road to recovery.
“With our limited resources, some help from neighbours and friends, and our strength that comes from our faith in God. We cleaned up the debris, restored vital infrastructure, and started rebuilding our homes and our lives. We have continued the recovery process over the past five years, despite the interruption of COVID
, by delivering recovery projects financed by the CDB (Caribbean Development Bank) recovery and rehabilitation loan, and our own financial resources,” Dr Wheatley said.
“I’m very pleased that many of these recovery projects have been completed by Virgin Islands contractors who have done an outstanding job with the support of the Recovery and Development Agency under the leadership of Mr Anthony McMaster. Major roads such as Ballast Bay, Great Mountain and Little Dix Hill have been restored. We have also rebuilt government administration buildings on Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. Works on the Ralph T O’Neil administration complex are ongoing, well managed and near completion,” he added.
The Premier also highlighted the restoration of several schools in the territory and plans to restore several others in the future.
“The Elmore Stoutt High School Redevelopment Project is almost complete, and other school projects are at different stages of implementation. We have ensured that the needs of our future generations are secured. We have also repaired and upgraded recreational and community facilities and the list goes on. I want to say a special thank you to all the donors whose contributions have helped us rebuild, especially in the education sector. More support for rebuilding and fixing schools has been announced for which we are grateful,” Dr Wheatley said.
He noted the misfortunes of Irma turned into opportunities for building greater resilience as a society. The Premier said local contractors are now getting opportunities for growth and to strengthen their capabilities especially with building structures to withstand natural disasters.
“This has many benefits for our economy, chief of which is increasing the amount of money that stays on our shores and circulating in our economy. The resilience of our financial services industry has sustained government revenues during this time. As our tourism industry was halted, confidence in our financial services industry remained high and provided revenues to carry us through. We see the wisdom of our predecessors when they chose to establish our financial services industry in the 1980s,” Dr Wheatley said.
“We still have much to do by the way of continuing our recovery as we rebuild for development and greater resilience. But we have made substantial progress since Irma struck five years ago. We must recognise and remember this: the greatest lesson we can take from this experience is that we trust in God, the support of our partners and belief in ourselves. We the people of the Virgin Islands
can triumph over anything, and we emerge stronger from every challenge that confronts us,” the Premier continued.