Members of the U.S. House of Representatives toured devastated wings of the Juan F. Luis Hospital and other badly damaged areas of St. Croix Friday.
They discussed challenges and concerns with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency and community advocates and spoke with local students about their recent return to school.
Following the tour, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy assured residents, “We will continue to work to make sure we solve these problems. We will be with you today, tomorrow, and as we rebuild.”
The delegation, which included McCarthy, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Anthony Brown (D-MD), Norma Torres (D-CA), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Jenniffer Gonzalez (Puerto Rico) and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, visited the third floor of the hospital, which along with the second floor has been deemed unusable by the Army Corps of Engineers due to the infiltration of the roof and water damage. They saw that the dialysis unit is now completely gone.
The cost to repair these areas will be high. The failure to address pre-existing needs for buildings such as the hospital likely contributed to the level and amount of damage suffered in the storm.
In the short term, Gov. Kenneth Mapp has requested that modular units be used in place of the hospital.
V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, who hosted the delegation, shared the importance of the ongoing efforts in the territory and detailed what will be needed as the most recent federal aid package is distributed. The V.I. will likely be asking for $500 million to $800 million of the available $4.9 billion in loans available only to territories affected by the hurricane.
Plaskett will discuss the requests that will be put in for the next round of funding with Mapp and the V.I. Senate, stressing the importance of modernization to mitigate loss from future storms.
Hoyer agreed with her sentiment, stating “It’s not simply sufficient to replace that which was, but to make sure that we replace to 21st century standards so that this devastation will not be again revisited.”
The Stafford Act regulates how disaster funding is spent and requires infrastructure such as the grid, to be rebuilt “as was.” Plaskett intends to request additional funding to assist with modernization and help minimize damage from future storms.
The delegation visited Ricardo Richards Elementary School, which is closed, and spoke to students waiting for the bus to take them to their temporary school. The students expressed some frustration at their long day due to the lengthy bus ride, but were in good spirits and excited to meet Plaskett, their own representative.
Bishop, who is chairman of the natural resource committee, plans to return to the islands with his full committee. He agreed with his colleagues regarding modernization, and plans to “make sure we are repairing this island to be a better standard than it was before but, more importantly, that we will go back there and try to remove every kind of barrier and red tape burden that exists to make sure that the relief effort can go forward and go forward quickly and to reach the problem and solve the situation without any kind of hang-ups simply because there is some silly rule of regulation back in Washington.”
The group also toured Frederiksted and other storm damaged areas before having lunch with representatives of FEMA, VITEMA and local community leaders to discuss the impacts of the storm.
Their trip also includes visits to the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico. McCarthy and Hoyer noted that they had discussed visiting immediately after the storm, but had resisted to ensure they did not distract from rescue efforts.