Gov. Kenneth Mapp has suspended Hurricane Irma recovery efforts with the grim expectation that Hurricane Maria could strike the V.I. on Tuesday.
“Take this event seriously,” Mapp said.
In a radio address from St. Croix Government House on Sunday, Mapp said residents should seek out safety ahead of the storm. Buildings with tarps in place of normal roofs, and wind-damages structures are particularly vulnerable, Mapp said.
“A tarp cannot provide shelter in a 10 mile-per-hour wind event, let alone” hurricane-force winds, Mapp said.
“The government has ceased recover operations and we are in hunker down and take shelter mode,” Mapp said.
Officials are planning a mandatory evacuation of the damaged Tutu Hi-Rise housing community on St. Thomas starting at 6 a.m. today. National Guardsmen would follow in the wake of the evacuation, boarding up walls and windows, officials said.
Irma, a Category 5 storm, tore walls from the buildings there. Anyone who wished to remain at those buildings should write their Social Security number or name on their body, so remains could be easily identified, Mapp said.
The government is setting up three shelters on St. Croix, at D.C. Canegata Multi-Purpose Recreation Center, Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged and St. Croix Educational Complex High School.
Also on St. Croix, officials were planning to distribute sand bags at the Anna’s Hope Center starting at 8:30 a.m. and the Frederiksted Public Works building starting at 9 a.m. Maria was expected to drop up to 20 inches of rain on the territory, Mapp said.
On St. Thomas, the government was planning to reopen the Knud Hansen Health Complex in Hospital Ground — closed because of a generator failure — maintain the Lockhart Elementary shelter, and open Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School as a third shelter.
Education officials have previously said Boschulte was intended as the original shelter for Irma, but lacked a functioning generator. The shelter was relocated to E. Benjamin Oliver Elementary School, a compromised roof forced an evacuation to Knud Hansen.
On St. John, officials are expecting to open the closed Guy Benjamin Elementary School and Bethany Moravian Church as shelters.
In a nod to the still-incomplete process of construction and debris removal on St. Thomas and St. John, Mapp said to expect power poles, trees and other debris that had been removed could fall down again. “Trust me, they’re gonna be down again,” Mapp said.
The V.I. Water and Power Authority issued a separate press release saying it was suspending any work on the territory’s power system ahead of Maria’s anticipated Tuesday night/Wednesday morning arrival. WAPA officials have previously said as much as 95 percent of the power infrastructure on the St. Thomas-St. John district was destroyed by Irma’s winds.
Food distribution points, which have become a central aspect of post-Irma life, would restock through Sunday night to distribute as many supplies as possible during the day today.
Mapp urged people to bring food and water back to neighbors unable to make it to the distribution sites.
The current sites are:
• The Estate Bordeaux fire station
• The Kirwan Terrace school
• The new Omar Brown Sr. Fire Station in Estate Ross Taarnbjerg
• The V.I. Legislature Building
• The Government Parking Lot — which government parking lot wasn’t specified
• The Estate Dorothea Fire Station
• Eudora Ivanna Kean High School
As the storm approached, Mapp said he would order first responders off the streets, at which point, while 911 dispatchers would still take calls, but emergency responders would be unable to respond. Law enforcement officers would stage ahead of the storm and be among the first people back out on the streets, said Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr.
Mapp warned residents to shelter in a place they know to be secure before the storm, because help might not be available during. “From that point, you may get someone on the phone, but you will not receive any assistance,” he said.