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Governor, Emergency Officials Warn of Severe Storm

Oct. 14, 2008 — With Tropical Storm Omar tracking to head northeast between St. Thomas and St. Croix, emergency-management officials are advising V.I. residents to batten down their homes, stock up on groceries and prepare for a severe storm.
On Tuesday Gov. John deJongh Jr. brought together emergency-management personnel for a storm announcement from the University of the Virgin Islands teleconferencing rooms on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
"I ask everyone not to take this for granted, even though it is the first storm scare this year, " deJongh said.
Mark Walters, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, gave an update on the storm. As of Tuesday morning, the storm center was about 384 miles southwest of Puerto Rico and was expected to turn eastward and head north toward the territory. Winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour are possible in the next 36 hours, Walters said. Five to 10 inches of rain may fall tonight, and another 15 to 30 inches by the end of the day Thursday.
"Now is the time to take precautions in terms of yourself and your family getting ready for the storm," Walters said. "Tie up whatever may be loose, [and] make sure you have two to five days worth of groceries and batteries so you can hear all the updates on the radio."
Mike Penna of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urged residents to take the storm seriously.
"Please take heed of the warnings of professionals on this storm," he said. "Everybody sees how erratic they are. They can change for the worse in just a few hours. Make sure you have your family plan in place, and make sure everybody is aware of that plan."
Police Chief James McCall asked Virgin Islanders to try to stay off the streets during and after the storm.
"There will be too many emergency-response vehicles on the streets as it is," McCall said. "And if a state of emergency is declared, a curfew will be in effect. If curfew is violated, it is three months probation and a $200 fine. And please, no looting. We have enough to worry about."
McCall advised all police officers to immediately prepare with their families, "because when it happens, you will be called in for up to 36 hours at a time."
All senior citizens' centers and Head Start centers are closed until after the storm, said Assistant Health Commissioner Judy Gomez. Meals on Wheels will continue operating. Financial Services will resume operations as soon as government offices reopen, she said.
"If you have elderly neighbors, or neighbors with special needs, make sure you look after them and make sure they are prepared," Gomez said.
V.I. National Guard Adjutant General Renaldo Rivera suggested residents make sure their most vital personal papers are in plastic containers, and recommended refilling prescriptions right away.
"You don't want to be worrying about that in the middle of everything," he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard has announced the territory's ports will close at 10 p.m. Tuesday. No ships, including those at Hovensa, will be allowed to leave port after that. Port Authority officials will meet with airline officials Wednesday morning to plan the next several days at the territory's two airports.
Officials from the Water and Power Authority, Waste Management Authority, VITEMA, FEMA and the National Guard each reassured residents they are prepared for the storm and plan cleanup and recover efforts quickly afterwards.
All WAPA employees have been designated as essential and will report to work on normal schedules to assist in the restoration of the electric and water systems in the event of any damage caused by the storm, said Gregory Rhymer, WAPA's chief operating officer and emergency response coordinator.
WAPA has enough fuel and water stored in both districts, and power-plant personnel are securing generating equipment, water plants, fuel-dock facilities and other areas to minimize possible damage. The authority has in place 12 damage-assessment teams throughout the territory, and a similar number of restoration crews to quickly fix problems after the storm has passed and WAPA's outside restoration contractors are on standby, Rhymer said.
Customers on St. Croix can call 773-0150, or 773-2250 and then press 7 for the line department to report water or power problems To report outages on St. Thomas and St. John, call 774-1424 or 774-3552 and press 4 for a dispatcher. Customers should be prepared to give accurate information, including clear directions to the home or business with the problem. If necessary, WAPA's emergency hotline will be activated to accommodate increased calls. Those numbers will be announced through the media at that time.
Rhymer is cautioning the public to stay away from fallen lines; assume they are energized and report the problem immediately, he said. Customers should locate and mark the potable water safety valve in case it becomes necessary to turn off the water because of a pipe break and then report the damage to the emergency numbers.
May Adams Cornwall, director of the Waste Management Authority, advised everyone to dispose of all household waste at the waste-disposal bin sites throughout the islands Tuesday to allow for WMA to empty the bins Wednesday morning. She asked everyone to clear their homes and yards of all debris that could become airborne, remove any loose or low-hanging branches and secure any outdoor furniture, gas cylinders and the like.
After the storm, the Anguilla and Bovoni landfills will be the primary debris-hauling sites, but there are secondary sites if these must be closed, she said. Because of heavy recent rains and the expected rainfall from Omar, the sewer system will continue to experience a large inflow of storm water and may overwhelm various pump stations, so overflows are likely in certain areas, she said. Residents are asked report any overflows to the WMA's customer-service line: 774-4139 on St. Thomas, 776-6346 on St. John, and 713-1962 on St. Croix. Call 712-4950 or 712-4951 for more information.
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