Puerto Rico And U.S. Virgin Islands Hit By Hurricane Maria

Sep 20, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Caribbean is hurting today. Hurricane Maria has hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The storm is being called the strongest to have hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. What's worse is these islands were still recovering from Hurricane Irma, which hit only two weeks ago.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Earlier today I spoke with David Mapp. He's the executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority. He oversees the airports and public seaports in the U.S. islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. I reached him on St. Croix and asked him what the last 24 hours have been like for him.

DAVID MAPP: I spent the night in the airport. What I normally do with a team of staffers - we stay in the airport when hurricanes come through so that we can get it ready for receiving relief aircraft, military aircraft coming in and FEMA as soon as possible.

CHANG: And when you're holed up in the airport for hours and hours, what did you see as the storm hit the island?

MAPP: Well, I - we have an AWOS system on the airfield that gives pilots wind speed. And the AWOS system blew out about an 80 miles an hour sustained, which was probably three hours before the storm was due to hit full force to St. Croix. And when we saw that, we knew we were in for a long evening.

CHANG: Right. And after the storm calmed down somewhat, does the airport seem operable? Can planes actually land there at this point?

MAPP: Well, not until I do - or my team has a proper assessment done of the taxi and runways to make sure there are no holes in the runway as a result of the storm that happened and clear any debris that may appear as an obstruction on the airfield, which is what we're going through now.

CHANG: Do you have a sense for what has happened outside of your immediate area? What is the extent of the damage throughout the Virgin Islands right now?

MAPP: Well, I've only made it to the town of Frederiksted because there is extensive tree damage on the island. And as a matter of fact, I was here for Hurricane Hugo. And...

CHANG: That was what year? Remind me.

MAPP: That was 1989. And it almost seems to me that this storm took out much larger trees, and those larger trees created more obstacles for the roadways. I mean I'm seeing trees that have survived Hugo, Marilyn and several other storms that passed close by. And I mean it took them out at the root. It's problematic for getting around right now. The publics work department and the National Guard are doing a tremendous job in trying to get the roads clear quickly so that as the resupply gets in, it can get to the distribution centers.

But because of Hurricane Hugo, when many people rebuilt their homes, they built them to a newer building code. So there seems to be or appears to be, at least in Frederiksted, far less homes that are significantly damaged. There is damage but not as many, at least to my eyes, there was in Hurricane Hugo. Many, many more roofs stayed on, but there are still some roofs that you see scattered about.

CHANG: Do you know what's happening to the people who don't have roofs now over their heads? Are there efforts underway to set up shelter - temporary shelter for people whose homes have been...

MAPP: Well, there are shelters that were put in place, and there - but...

CHANG: We lost our line with David Mapp. The lines into the Caribbean are not very reliable at the moment. David Mapp is executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority. And later in the show, we will hear another view from Hurricane Maria's path in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.