People of the Virgin Islands, I come to you today as part of my regular schedule of updates to you following the impact of Hurricane Irma.
Before I give my update, I wanted to reflect that today is one month since Irma devastated the Territory. I know we have all been through a lot in the last month. Each of us will have a personal and family story of what we have been through and how we have been impacted. The journey ahead will be long, but we are making progress each day. I have been astounded by the strength and resilience of communities and we have shown the true best of the Virgin Islands. As a relative newcomer to the Virgin Islands I am immensely proud to call here my home and my community.
I am conscious that whilst we will all have privately reflected in our own way, we have not had an opportunity as a Territory to recognise what we have been through and what we face ahead. To mark the month from Irma, the Cabinet and I would like to invite you to a one hour gathering to be held this afternoon (Friday October 6), at the Queen Elizabeth II Park. This will start at 4:30 and ending at 5:30 to recognise those persons we sadly lost, to reflect on the suffering we face and to also give thanks for spared lives. For those who cannot make it, I hope that we can still join in hearts and minds later today.
By way of update on our road to recovery, immediately following Irma and after consultations with the Premier and Cabinet, I declared a State of Emergency for the Territory which also allowed for the implementation of a curfew. As I indicated yesterday, my intention is to end the State of Emergency as soon as possible subject to the passage of a Curfew Act in the House of Assembly.
The Curfew Act was passed in the House of Assembly yesterday which will allow a curfew to be in place without the State of Emergency as we restore vital services and move forward with the Territory’s recovery plan. In light of this, the State of Emergency ended yesterday. This is an important step as we move forward.
I am putting in place today, under the new Curfew Act, a revised curfew. My and Cabinet’s aim is to make sure we support people, communities and businesses to return to normal as quickly as possible, but also that people feel secure when large areas of the Territory are still without electricity. Therefore, the Cabinet has agreed that the curfew will now be in place from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. daily.
All previous passes issued for access during the curfew period are no longer valid. Essential workers will be able to obtain a new pass via the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, who will issue further details later.
I continue to support the Premier and his Ministers as we move towards fully implementing the Recovery Plan. This vision is one which will see the Virgin Islands become even better than it was before.
Ministers are working on key programmes in their respective areas. Plans are being finalised for housing needs for those affected by Irma but who are not insured; and a plan is in place for education, and I am pleased that schools have started to reopen. A number of Ministries and departments suffered considerable losses during Irma and as previously mentioned we have re-established government services and we are identifying critical resources which need to be quickly replaced.
The Virgin Islands Fire and Rescue Service suffered losses to its building and vehicles. The United Kingdom (UK) Government has therefore provided two multi-purpose fire appliances which were handed over to the Virgin Islands Fire and Rescue Service today to aid in its ability to respond to emergency situations that may arise. We are very grateful.
The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) which has transitioned to the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) lost nearly 40 years of investment in technology and equipment which are important to monitor and provide early warning of hazards that can threaten the Virgin Islands. Efforts are being made to restore the department’s National Emergency Broadcasting System which includes sirens, monitoring devices and communications networks essential for any disaster management system, along with the department’s building—which was also destroyed.
Military assistance from the United Kingdom working alongside Virgin Islands Government services has been essential in addressing security issues, providing relief support and technical expertise for communications and infrastructure. As our recovery strengthens it was right that yesterday, the bulk of the UK military personnel left the Territory.
The ship RFA Mounts Bay is still in Road Harbour and a core team of specialist engineers will remain to support infrastructural repairs. The Premier and I yesterday recognised and passed on our appreciation on behalf of the entire Territory to the UK military.
By way of reassurance, the National Security Council met yesterday and I and the Council are briefed regularly by the Police Commissioner on security matters. I am also grateful that we have continued support from police officers from the UK and our friends in other Overseas Territories.
Going forward, my plan is to issue weekly addresses, every Friday but if any urgent matters arise I, the Premier or the relevant Minister will speak with you before then.
As we move forward now, let me urge everyone to continue to demonstrate the community spirit of togetherness and resilience that has contributed to our progress to date. The recovery efforts need to keep that same spirit of togetherness and mutual support shown so far for us to be successful as we go forward.
And on this day that marks one month since Irma, may God continue to protect and bless us all in the Virgin Islands.
Thank you and stay strong.