Good day to one and all.
I would like to start, on the second anniversary of Hurricane Irma, by saying that my heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the people of the Bahamas at this extremely difficult time following the passage of Hurricane Dorian. We join the international community in committing to support in any way we can. Earlier today the Premier and I co-chaired a meeting of our public and voluntary organisations to coordinate the offers of support from the BVI to the Bahamas. Our focus at this time is on supporting the relief efforts in The Bahamas in every way we can, and on supporting Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minniss and his government. We know the benefits of ensuring that there is effective coordination from the National Emergency Operations Centre if people are to receive the immediate assistance that is needed.
Today is a somber day for many of us as we reflect on the passage of Hurricane Irma exactly two years ago. At the time, Irma was a record breaker, bringing gusts over 200 miles per hour and a wholly unprecedented level of damage to this beautiful territory. As we emerged from our various shelters, whether we had lived here for our whole lives or had just recently arrived in the Territory, we all shared the same sense of dread over how we would possibly cope with such immense devastation.
No sector of the Virgin Islands passed without damage. Homes, businesses, education facilities, transportation networks, public parks, the electrical grid, telecommunications infrastructure, all sustained extensive impacts, totaling some $3.6 billion in damage.
Although the impacts of Hurricane Dorian were relatively minimal as it passed the Virgin Islands, Dorian was a stark reminder that as far as we’ve come, and as prepared as we were, we still have a lot of work to do. I think Dorian helped us all learn lessons about how ready we are – personally, as a community, and as a Territory.
Two years has passed since Irma and the memory still lingers. We have made progress. Businesses are up and running and homes have largely been repaired. We have improved security with support from the UK to boost our police force, prisons and security agencies and we have bolstered our disaster preparedness and response capabilities. I am delighted that visitors and cruise ships continue to arrive. Our financial services industry remains a world leader.
But there is still much work to be done to build this Territory back even better than it was before. Last year I spoke of the need to guard against complacency, not to allow temporary solutions to become permanent. We need to not be complacent about the risks during hurricane season. Let us not take planning and preparation for granted. The Atlantic is now busy, with four systems being monitored, of which at least one looks likely to develop further. We must therefore maintain a high level of readiness and Be Ready to respond should any of these systems pose a threat to the Territory. I urge you to continue to monitor the information coming out of the Department of Disaster Management via the website, mobile app, social media feed, and traditional news releases.
And we should remain focused on taking the Territory forward – we have all the ingredients for success as our communities have shown, our businesses have shown, our public service has shown, our new structures such as the Recovery and Development Agency have shown and our partners, in particular support from the United Kingdom, have shown. Let us unite together to use all these ingredients to recover and build an even more fantastic Virgin Islands.
Finally, I spoke last year at the one year anniversary of the great strengths I had witnessed in the people of the Virgin Islands following Irma and Maria – our resilience, our dedication, our unity and, above all, our kindness to one another. Let us continue to hold onto and keep showing these vital strengths.