St. Thomas — A few days shy of hurricane Irma’s 12 month mark, gaps in critical infrastructure continue to hamper everyday operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria delivered a second blow to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico less than a week later. The Daily News reported that nearly 95 percent of power infrastructure in the territory was destroyed following both storms. Here’s an update on the status of
Status: Restored, vulnerable
After hurricane Irma made landfall almost a year ago, hundreds of linemen from the U.S. mainland helped to restore the electrical networks on all islands. With WAPA’s permanent personal, restoration efforts could have taken over a year according to some estimates.
A single tweet from Elon Musk opened the door for Tesla to play a significant role in helping Puerto Rico restore power to the hardest hit regions of the island. A Tesla representatives visited St. John last October but did not announce any initiatives to assist with restoration efforts. Instead, Tesla has begun selling it’s Powerwall technology through local partnerships.
Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack technology are rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that remain stationary, storing energy that can be used during a blackout. The technology allows homeowners to ditch loud and sometimes expensive gasoline and diesel generators in the event of a power outage.
WAPA has announced that it will be installing composite poles and micro-grids in specific locations to prevent future blackouts. Though power is completely restored on all islands, the electric grid remains vulnerable since most power lines are not buried. To date, hurricanes Hugo, Marilyn, Irma, Maria and other weather systems have wreaked havoc on vulnerable power lines in the Virgin Islands.
Internet & Cell Service
Status: Restored, vulnerable, spotty
77 percent of cell sites in the territory were destroyed after both storms, cutting off residents and first responders from the outside world at the start of recovery efforts. Viya’s network is now fully restored, with a few caveats.
Google’s sister company, Loon played an essential role in delivering fast internet and cell service to Puerto Rico in October. Originally, the FCC set aside special emergency spectrum for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. This cleared the way for Loon to deliver emergency cell service via specially retrofitted balloons in remote areas. Local providers including Viya, AT&T and Sprint did not sign onto the special project. It is unclear if the governor was aware of this opportunity last year.
- Much of the infrastructure has been restored as it previously was, leaving critical fiber lines exposed to future hurricanes.
- Viya’s network remains spotty throughout the territory, especially during inclement weather, weekends and holidays.
- The company has continued to heavily throttle user data.
- Viya customers are still using battery powered equipment that leaves them without phone, cable or internet service once power has been lost for extended periods of time.
Public transportation in the Virgin Islands has always been fragmented so this section will be brief. Beyond the absence of services like Uber, safari and Vitran runs are unreliable and limited to specific areas and routes.
Most of Vitran’s fleet of busses have been out of operation since the storm. Residents frequently ride on one bus that services up to three separate routes at a time. On a typical day, the Bovoni bus takes commuters through Donue, Ras Valley, and Tutu Park Mall in a single run — the route takes nearly two hours to complete.
Waste Management Authority has played an essential role in keeping the territory clean and disease free throughout recovery efforts. The authority has struggled to keep up with trash collection due to gaps in its budget and collection strategy.Vulnerable areas include trash sites in housing communities, low income areas, bins near a water source and the landfills on St. Thomas and St. Croix. The authority also lost its executive director after its interim head departed.