U.S. Virgin Islands governor: Recovery will take years

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) greets residents during his visit in St. Martin on Tuesday. Pool Photo by Christophe Ena/EPA

Sept. 13 (UPI) — The U.S. Virgin Islands could take years to recover after devastation from Hurricane Irma last week, the territory’s governor said.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp said it may take “months, months, months” before even power is restored. Food and water is scarce and buildings have been heavily destroyed, especially in the hardest-hit St. John island.

Irma, as a Category 4 storm, also heavily destroyed Barbuda, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Guadeloupe, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Cuba before reaching Florida and then other states. At least 36 people in the Caribbeandied as a result of the storm.

“It’s complete devastation. There’s no power or water. Basically almost everything got demolished,” Shelby Alfred, a nurse in Cruz Bay, on St. John, told NBC News on Tuesday. “Everything is pretty much gone.”

Residents in the larger St. Thomas are worried food supplies could run low before they are replenished.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard arrived to help transport evacuees and tourists off the island.

The U.S. Defense Department said about 4,600 service members were assisting in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Many of the islands’ 100,000 population are from the mainland United States.

Mapp said President Donald Trump is expected to visit the Islands within a week.

“We’re not going to have recovery in an instant,” Mapp told Bloomberg.. “We’re managing the expectations. This is not a sprint.”

Mapp wants the islands to rebuild as soon as possible so tourists, including those aboard cruise ships, can return.

“Our main staple as an economy is tourism and we want folks from the wider U.S. community or the market to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands on a regular basis,” Mapp said. “We don’t want to be wiped off the list” of tourist destinations.

The Cyril E. King airport on St. Thomas is expected to reopen Saturday for commercial flights, Mapp said.

John Rabin, an acting administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency region that covers the islands said there’s “an awful lot of work that is going to need to be done.”

He said 90 percent of St. Thomas’ electrical distribution was destroyed and about half of St. John’s grid is down.

Dixon Strickling evacuated with her family to Puerto Rico with help from volunteers.

“We are U.S. citizens, and the U.S. government needs to come and help. They need to send a visible force to make people feel safe so they don’t do desperate things,” she told NBC.

In the British Virgin Islands, prisoners had escaped in Tortola and seized guns.

“I know some people were not happy with my telling the truth – that I was scared, that people here were scared,” Jenn Manes told The Washington Postas she waited Tuesday to catch a Coast Guard boat off the island. “It doesn’t mean I won’t be back. We’re going to rebuild.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron arrived Tuesday in Guadeloupe, a French territory, on a plane with water, food, medicine and emergency equipment. He then toured St. Martin and St. Barts.

“The situation is very critical,” he told the residents in Guadeloupe. “What I want to do is to have a very fast recovery, so we are trying to fix the situation regarding health, education, access to water, energy and telecom.”

In St. Martin, Macron said that 50 percent of mobile connections have been restored and the water system would be at a third of capacity by Sept. 20.

Officials said about 2,000 of the 35,000 residents on the French side of Saint Martin had left in recent days. The other side is under Dutch sovereignty.

But Macron said that “everybody who wants to leave will be able to.”

In Cuba, Hurricane Irma impacted about 90 percent of the country, causing the most damage in the central and western provinces, according to the Office of the Resident Coordinator. The water supply in Havana, the capital, was affected because of damage to the electrical system. Also damage to buildings and agriculture were reported.

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