In September 2017, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) were hit with two Category 5 Hurricanes – the most destructive kind possible – within 12 days of each other, blasting the islands with 240 mile-per-hour winds that caused catastrophic damage across the U.S.-owned territory. Up to 60 percent of homes and 400 boats were destroyed. St. Thomas and St. Croix took harsh blows, but it was St. John that suffered the most infrastructure damage overall; nearly every home on the island suffered damage and for more than six weeks there was no power at all.
From the time Irma hit, Bloomberg Philanthropies was ready to help.
Immediate on-the-ground support
Bloomberg Philanthropies kept staff on the ground in St. John during Hurricane Maria even as government resources left; for the first four days after Maria, we were the only entity providing on-site support.
We also played a significant role by bringing in critical resources to the USVI – including more than 200 tons of food, fuel, medical supplies, communications gear and tarps. This allowed residents to stabilize their living situation and begin working on cleanup efforts.
Priority patients were evacuated via helicopter and sea-based transport using military and civilian aviation resources, and providers from Johns Hopkins Medical Center set up a functioning clinic in St. John after the only urgent care facility on the island was damaged beyond use. To help with local transportation, we 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 – went to the USVI and became a resource to U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp, helping to navigate the massive federal bureaucracies and coordinate the immediate and ongoing implementation of recovery response efforts. The team is also helping develop a centralized process to attract, coordinate and leverage federal and philanthropic funding and volunteer efforts territory-wide. St. John and the Virgin Islands will be a model for innovative rebuilding that incorporates sustainability to be used as a blueprint for other cities around the world facing similar effects from climate change.
Lessons in recovery and rebuilding for resilience after natural disasters
In June 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies released a report on its support of recovery work in the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The report highlights four key ways government, the private sector, and philanthropy can work together more effectively to respond to natural disasters. The Territory’s recovery has been faster and more comprehensive than many other Caribbean islands mainly due to cooperation among local and federal agencies, private sector leaders, and technical experts who worked together on clear goals.
Meeting challenges around the world
The challenges around the world are increasingly complex, and neither the private nor the public sector can solve them alone. Public-private partnerships were a hallmark of Mike Bloomberg’s approach as Mayor of New York City, and Bloomberg Philanthropies takes a similar approach to bring together people, ideas and resources from across sectors toward a common purpose, thereby amplifying impact.