An apparent oversight by the Bryan administration may have prevented sandbags from being distributed in advance of last night’s storm.
According to V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Daryl Jaschen, sandbags were not distributed because there was no alternative distribution plan that factored in COVID-19 and the prevention of large gatherings.
As Jaschen told The Daily News, “we weren’t synchronized yet.”
“We were so focused on sheltering and COVID-19 — I did not see [sandbags] come up as one of the main issues until all of a sudden it came up in questioning,” Jaschen said.
Two months into hurricane season, Jaschen said he didn’t want a sudden “knee-jerk reaction” in which sandbags were hastily distributed and generate a large crowd.
“At this point, I want to make sure we do this properly,” he said.
Jaschen said that he has spoken with Public Works Commissioner Nelson Petty Jr. and Fire Service Director Daryl George about an alternative plan, hinting at a possible drive-up service. However, he did not want to announce anything until efforts were finalized. “We’re going to make [the plan] better and sooner rather than later, but I don’t have a date,” he said.
The Bryan administration has noted that last night’s storm was not just the first major storm of the season but the first to hit Virgin Islanders amid a pandemic, which adds another wrinkle to hurricane preparedness.
On Wednesday, V.I. Human Services Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez said in order to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the government would not open congregate shelters.
While Causey-Gomez added that shelters can be opened if necessary, it remains unclear how many people can be accommodated should conditions worsen.
New guidelines from the American Red Cross require a 10-by-10-foot space per person, which, while satisfying the recommended six feet of social distance, reduces the total amount of space available in the shelter.
Jaschen, in a recent Senate hearing, noted the challenge.
“We’ve gone from 20 square feet to 110 square feet — that’s a factor of five difference. So, if it’s 100 people [allowed before], it’s going to be down to 20 people now.”