Virgin Islanders are beginning to see the light. As power returns to neighborhoods throughout the territory, street and traffic lights are becoming a familiar sight again, with more and more businesses and homes illuminated after dark.
According to a news release Tuesday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged almost 90 percent of the territory’s electrical grid in September. Since then, Virgin Islanders have spent weeks in the dark.
As of Tuesday, more than a third of customers have functioning power – and the territory is making headway in reaching its goal of restoring electricity to 90 percent of customers with functioning meters by the end of the year.
More than $76 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance program has helped boost the power-restoration effort. As a result of the major disaster declarations for the U.S. Virgin Islands, FEMA is funding 100 percent of the costs of such emergency work for 180 days from the declaration dates – until March 4, 2018, for Hurricane Irma, and March 15, 2018, for Hurricane Maria.
The funds are helping the V.I. Water and Power Authority cover the cost of bringing about 700 linemen from the mainland and shipping in more than 10,000 poles – including many that can withstand 200 mph winds – hundreds of trucks and thousands of miles of wire.
“FEMA is funding the territory’s power restoration work in such a big way because electricity drives nearly every aspect of the recovery effort for survivors, for businesses and for communities,” said FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer William Vogel.
Behind the scenes of the power restoration effort is a joint territorial/federal task force dedicated to developing strategies and courses of action for restoring power. Comprised of WAPA, the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the task force is focused on finding best methods of repairing generating facilities, transmission equipment, and distribution systems. The task force is also looking for ways to build resiliency into the islands’ power systems for the long term.
Initially, the priority had been on making sure hospitals, schools and other critical public buildings were powered up and able to provide services to Virgin Islanders, the FEMA news release said. To that end, the Corp of Engineers installed almost 160 industrial generators throughout the islands in the weeks following the hurricanes. Now, as communities get back on the power grid, USACE has begun de-installing generators – another sign of progress.