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Virgin Islands Use Lull to Prepare for Next Storm

Sept. 23, 2004 — Three hurricanes narrowly missed the U.S. Virgin Islands already this year and work crews are using the relatively calm downtime to prepare for the worst, officials said Wednesday.
Government crews have worked daily, sometimes around the clock, to clear roads and storm water routes after Hurricane Jeanne passed to the south of the U.S. Caribbean territory, dumping up to 12 inches of rain, said Robert Moorehead, Department of Public Works deputy commissioner.
Water gushed down hillsides during the storm pushing hundreds of tons of sand and debris onto roads, Moorehead said.
Consultants from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are investigating how to keep storm water out of sewer lines, which overflowed during the storm, Moorehead said.
Water rushing into the lines backed up a sewer station and forced an emergency procedure that pumped wastewater directly into the ocean outside Christiansted harbor, he said.
"The sheer volume of water getting into the pump station caused the problems there," Moorehead said.
Officials are also planning to bury nearly 14 miles of power lines in St. Croix to prevent electrical outages like the ones that kept many residents in the dark for more than three days during the storm, said Water and Power Authority Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega.
The plan will cost more than $6.5 million and take three years to complete, but will eliminate power failures caused by high winds and falling trees, Bruno-Vega said.
Bruno-Vega said he is pushing for additional funding to bury power lines down main streets in Frederiksted, where power outages cripple businesses.
"All those commercial establishments in that area would be almost guaranteed service if a hurricane or storm hit," Bruno-Vega said.
Dean C. Plaskett, commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources, said government officials have yet to release damage estimates from the storm, which could have been much worse if not for strict building codes enacted after Hurricane Hugo leveled much of St. Croix in 1989.
"I think we're one of the most prepared districts in the United States for hurricanes," Plaskett said.
Roofless buildings damaged by previous hurricanes still litter the territory of 110,000.
Several storms are churning in the Atlantic but none threatens the Eastern Caribbean, said Todd Kimberlain, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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