Citing extensive damage to roads territory-wide, Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls and his team said Monday they have assigned all crews and contractors to clean up and make repairs, and are currently waiting for more resources to be brought in so they can fill up potholes.
In an afternoon teleconference with reporters, Smalls said that the approximately 25 inches of rain dumped last week by what was then sub-tropical storm Otto caused widespread flooding, mudslides and wreaked havoc on new road work, which has created or deepened some of the holes.
"We are inundated with potholes throughout the entire territory," he said, adding that the department has run through the cold mix it uses to do the patching. Supplies have been ordered, but Public Works, meanwhile, is hoping to get some backup "hot mix" from local contractors so some of the work can push forward.
He added that along with Public Works crews on St. Thomas, six private contractors have also been sent out in the last week, while damage on St. Croix was able to be handled in-house. Damage assessments are also being conducted, so preliminary estimates of the damage should soon be in to the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency.
The governor declared a state of emergency for the territory last Friday, as Otto made its way out of the territory after staying put for nearly a week.
During that time, public schools were closed, but Department of Education officials said everything will be ready for students when they return Tuesday.
St. Thomas-St. John Deputy Superintendent Joseph Sibilly said five schools within the district were impacted by water damage or runoff that entered some of the classrooms, including 15 rooms at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and 10 at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, along with the library at Yvonne Bowsky Elementary.
All the areas have since been cleaned up and "nothing will stop" the schools from operating Tuesday morning, Sibilly said.
St. Croix Superintendent Gary Molloy gave a similar report, saying that the district’s schools "fared pretty well considering all the water."
"We did have some major water damage in some of the schools but it was nothing that we couldn’t handle, and we’ve been able to get our buildings restored pretty quickly," he said in the Monday briefing, adding that there’s still some work left replacing ceiling tiles in a few of the facilities.
Asked about protecting students from dengue, Assistant Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said the department’s plan is to work with Health in eliminating mosquito larvae in standing water pools.
Smalls wrapped up Monday with a few tips for motorists and local home owners, and underscored the need for both groups to be cautious when driving or moving around their property.
Landslides are still possible since the ground is so saturated with water, so residents are also urged not be use any heavy equipment around new construction.
Since Public Works has been concentrating on clearing major public areas first, residents in private subdivisions are also encouraged to make use of independent contractors who might be able to help with some of the work. But in case of emergency — Smalls spoke Monday about areas in which residents had been blocked in by the debris or mudslides — residents are urged to call the department at 774-4617 on St. Thomas-St. John and 773-1789 on St. Croix to report any incidents.
More specifically, Assistant Public Works Commissioner Roberto Cintron said department crews on St. Croix have taken care of a landslide in Estate LaVallee and were able to create another access road for residents of Enfield Green, where a bridge was washed out. Cintron said the gut at Rainbow Beach was opened up as a result of flooding in Prosperity and said the department will be working on the potholes in Welcome created by the heavy rains.
Smalls said the department has also finished washing down Main Street, and had crews out Monday in Hospital Ground working with the Waste Management Authority on addressing the impacts of the rain on gut and sewer systems. Work is also ongoing in the area of Clearview Apartments, where there was a landslide; on Crown Mountain; in Smith Bay/Nazareth, where crews worked on two of the major culverts; and Lindbergh Bay, where debris blocking some of the structures have been cleared.
Smalls said water overflowing from a natural spring has caused continuous flooding in Smith Bay, and urged drivers not to speed through the streets.