Premier's Office
Release Date:
Thursday, 7 September 2023 - 5:16pm


Statement by

Hon. Natalio D. Wheatley

Premier and Minister of Finance

3rd Sitting of the 1st Session of the 5th House of Assembly of the Virgin Islands

7 September, 2023


Hurricane Recovery – Reflections 6 years after Irma

Madam Speaker, six years ago to this day, those of us who were present on these beautiful Virgin Islands would have emerged from our homes and places of shelter, to the heartbreaking sight of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Irma was the strongest hurricane recorded in this part of the Atlantic in recent history, with wind speeds that were off the charts, and she battered our Islands for about 24 hours.

The events of 6 September, 2017, will remain etched in the memories of all who love these islands and all who witnessed the destruction. Many persons, even to this day, still feel traumatized just thinking and talking about it, and about what they experienced.

Out of respect, Madam Speaker, I would not recount the descriptive details. But it is sufficient to note that when the then Secretary of State, the Rt. Honourable Boris Johnson, visited the Virgin Islands days later, he likenedtje devastation to the Japanese city of Hiroshima after the atom bomb. And that was a fair description.

Madam Speaker, it is reported that over 80 percent of the housing stock was either destroyed or damaged. Most of our public infrastructure, from buildings to electricity poles, to the Government administration buildings, ferry docks, community centres, roads, schools – you name it, were either badly damaged or destroyed. It would be an easier task to say what was not damaged in the direct hit that touched all our islands.

The total estimated damage was between $3.5 to $4 billion, and it is said that our development was set back by some 20 years.

We lost four members of our community in the storm and quite a few more in the months after. We remember them and we pray for their souls.

The weeks and months after were very difficult. People had no shelter to keep their families dry and warm. Electricity, potable water, food and other amenities were a challenge. Persons became unemployed because the tourism industry, which is the main economic driver and which generates most of the jobs on our islands, was shut down.

But Madam Speaker, amidst the tragedy, one of the things that shone through was the resilience and compassion of our people and of our beautiful community. Persons helped one another, whether by offering shelter to their neighbors or sharing what little food and supplies they had. Our people came together and bit by bit they began the task of cleaning up and rebuilding our territory. This is how we live as Virgin Islanders.

Madam Speaker, God has blessed us with an amazing tourism product that was able to quickly rebound. With intensified efforts since 2019, we have seen strong recovery of our tourism industry. This has translated into a healthy recovery of our economy which was able to fare very well with the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have made significant progress in restoring our infrastructure. The administration buildings on Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke were restored. Thw repairs to the Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex are in advanced stages. We have repaired a number of community centres and recreation facilities across the Territory. Considerable repairs have been done to our schools. We recently opened the new Elmore Stoutt High School building, to complement the L. Adorothy Turnbull building, as part of the campus redevelopment project. Our children and educators are back home in comfortable accommodations. There are still a number of schools in need of repair or rebuilding and we are working to get these done.

Temporary or intermediate infrastructure was put in place in West End and Jost Van Dyke to restore ferry traffic between the islands. Preparations to commence work on the new West End Ferry Terminal are underway.

Restoration of a number of roads that suffered major damage has been completed. The coastal revetment work at Carrot Bay, where there was major erosion and road damage, is continuing.

Madam Speaker, a lot has been accomplished and there is a lot more work still to be completed. It is important to note that this work is not being approached solely on the basis of recovery but also in the context of development. This means that we are working not just to restore and replace infrastructure, but to rebuild stronger and with the needs of the future in mind.

Among the private sector, many of the properties that were either damaged or destroyed have been rebuilt or restored, and are once again open and welcoming visitors. Other property owners are working on repairs.

We have seen high confidence from our international tourism partners such as the travel agencies, charter companies, cruise lines and airlines.

All of these things stand as testimony to the determination and capabilities of our people.

We have come very far in six years. All Virgin Islands people should feel proud of what we have accomplished in this short time with our own resources and our indomitable spirit.

As we observe the 6th anniversary of the passage of Hurricane Irma, we glance back at the past, Madam Speaker, but we look forward with hope, determination and confidence – confidence in our people and our country.

May God continue to bless and protect our beautiful Virgin Islands and her people.

I thank you.