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St. Thomas in Good Shape for Hurricane Dean, Officials Say

Aug. 16, 2007 — More than 100 federal and local emergency-service coordinators and other personnel met Thursday morning at the headquarters of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency on St. Thomas to determine the territory's readiness for Hurricane Dean.
Similar meetings were held simultaneously on St. John and St. Croix.
As of Thursday afternoon, the storm didn't appear to pose a direct threat to the territory, said Steve Parris, VITEMA’s acting state director. However, he said VITEMA needs to determine the state of readiness of government agencies not only for the current storm but also for the overall hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.
"The ability of business and government to survive and recover from a disaster also ensures the survival and stability of our economy," Parris said.
VITEMA’s executive director, National Guard Adjutant General Renaldo Rivera, greeted the crowd Thursday, inviting any commissioners to leave the room. "Once you are in this center you are in charge of everyone in your department,” Rivera said. “You don't need to call on commissioners, so now would be a good time for them to leave. I want you to take good notes. Anything you need, put it down."
He advised emergency workers to plan ahead for both personal and professional considerations.
"Take care of your families first, for you may be 12 hours or more away from home," Rivera cautioned. In the event of an oncoming storm, responders would meet at VITEMA headquarters for as long as needed, Parris explained.
Rivera introduced Larry Sommers, coordinating officer of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Col. Robert Freehill of the Department of Defense, part of a federal team in the territory to assist VITEMA in preparation and recovery efforts. Kristina Simpson, FEMA’s external affairs director for Region 11, is also part of the team.
"We've been here since the storm started tracking, and we will be here until Monday," she said.
Representatives from all the government agencies gave an update on their preparedness status, along with the V.I. Water and Power Authority, University of the Virgin Islands, West Indian Company, V.I. Port Authority, American Red Cross of the V.I., U.S. Coast Guard, V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, St. Thomas Rescue, St. Thomas Dial-A-Ride, Innovative Telephone, the V.I. Fire Service, Schneider Regional Medical Center and emergency medical technicians.
A representative from Schneider put to rest questions about the hospital's generator.
"We did have an issue in the past. but it is up and running now," she said. The hospital has been running on its own generator for the past three days to help out WAPA, which has had its own problems.
The territory is sectioned off in 16 units, under which the appropriate government departments are responsible. They cover everything from transportation to urban search and rescue, food distribution, law enforcement, resource management and mass care.
St. Thomas will have three emergency shelters. They are Charlotte Amalie High School, Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School and Nisky Moravian Church. Parris said he will make an announcement Friday should the storm change course and the shelters become necessary.
Monique Sibilly Hodge, assistant Tourism Commissioner, said her agency’s offshore offices and stateside marketing company are disseminating storm information.
On Friday the island will have 2,500 guests with 148 empty rooms; on Saturday 2,600 guests with 157 empty rooms; and on Sunday 2,500 guests with 227 empty rooms, according to the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association. As of Thursday, no airline was reporting any canceled flights.
On Thursday, the West Indian Company operations office said there are no ships scheduled for Friday. An announcement will be made on Friday if any ships scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday will be canceled.
The USCG will monitor boats in the harbor, along with the Planning and Natural Resources division of environmental enforcement.
"You can't make a person leave his boat,” said Division Director Roberto Tapia. “If he refuses to leave, there is no law in place to force him to leave."
People who died in Hurricane Marilyn refused to leave their boats, he noted. Tapia also said supplies are in place on Water Island in the event of a storm.
St. Thomas Rescue said it has vehicles "topped up" and 20 violunteers ready for service. Dial-A-Ride said its program to transport people with special needs is prepared.
Deputy V.I. Police Chief Melvin Venzen cautioned everybody about curfew passes.
"They should have been applied for already," he said, stressing that a pass is only good for its holder. "If you are in a car with someone else, the pass is not good for anyone else traveling with you."
The emergency agencies don't need curfew passes, Vincent said.
After the meeting, Parris had nothing but good things to say.
"It was a wonderful meeting,” he said. “It went very well. It showed where we are right now. What we have to debate is the what-ifs. If the storm were coming to the territory, all emergency responders would be reporting to the VITEMA headquarters.”
If Dean continues to travel well south of St. Croix on its current trajectory, just a few responders will be called in, Parris said. "We're working on that right now," he said late Thursday afternoon.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. will hold a press conference at 12:30 p.m. Friday at UVI’s teleconferencing center to update the community on the territory’s state of readiness as Hurricane Dean nears the region. Rivera and Parris will join the governor.
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