Bringing Assistance to the U.S. Virgin Islands After Hurricanes Irma and Maria
In September 2017, the U.S. Virgin Islands suffered two extremely destructive Category 5 hurricanes within 12 days of each other. The islands were ravaged by 240-mile-per-hour winds that left catastrophe in their wake, destroying up to 60% of homes and some 400 boats. The infrastructure of St. John was particularly hard hit; nearly every home was damaged and power was cut for six weeks.
Bloomberg Philanthropies stepped in immediately, maintaining on-the-ground staff in St. John during Hurricane Maria. We also imported critical resources, including more than 200 tons of food, fuel, medical supplies, communications gear, and tarps, allowing residents to focus on cleaning up.
Priority medical patients were evacuated via helicopter and sea-based transport; providers from Johns Hopkins Medical Center set up a temporary clinic in St. John after the only urgent care facility on the island was rendered inoperative. We also sponsored a free daily shuttle from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay, which helped residents conserve fuel, and brought in tractors to help remove debris from roadways.
Top disaster experts — many of the same people who helped New York City recover from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — traveled to the Islands and helped Governor Kenneth Mapp navigate federal bureaucracy en route to a sustainable recovery. These experts have also helped to develop a centralized process to better coordinate funding and volunteer efforts across the territory, making the Virgin Islands a model for innovative rebuilding.
Lessons in Recovery and Rebuilding
In June 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies released a report on its support of recovery work in the Islands. It highlights four key ways that government, the private sector, and philanthropy can collaborate in response to natural disasters. The Territory’s recovery has been faster and more comprehensive than many other Caribbean islands — mainly due to efficient cooperation among local and federal agencies, private-sector leaders, and technical experts.