Tourists Are Returning To the U.S. Virgin Islands As Recovery Is Still Happening
ELISE HU, HOST:
Still nice - that's the slogan for the U.S. Virgin Islands' new tourism campaign. Over the past week, the islands have welcomed back the first cruise ships since Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through. On St. Thomas, a small number of tourists were treated to a pristine, white-sand beach and the music of a steel drum band. Elsewhere on the islands, though - a far slower recovery for the thousands displaced.
Kenneth Mapp, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, came by our studios this morning. I asked him what daily life is like two months after the storms.
KENNETH MAPP: Daily life is - every day gets a little bit better than the day before. More and more people get power. And I know here on the mainland, folks are going to be intrigued when I say that 60 percent of the folks on the island do not have power. Forty percent do. But a week ago, only 22 percent of the folks had power. But we expect to be at 90 percent by Christmas.
We're working on getting our modular hospitals in place because all of the members of our community that require dialysis has been transferred to different states. And of course our critical care patients that were in our hospitals are on - in three different states here on the U.S. mainland.
HU: Now, you and the Puerto Rican governor, Ricardo Rossello, met with Congress earlier this week to discuss hurricane recovery. You've been on the Hill all week.
MAPP: Yes, yes.
HU: You requested an additional $7.5 billion in aid for the Virgin Islands. What efforts would that money go toward?
MAPP: Well, it goes to rebuilding the infrastructure, two new hospitals. We lost nine schools. But we don't need to build nine. We want to rebuild six.
MAPP: Our hospitals were 250-bed hospitals built in the 1980s. We don't need 250-bed hospitals. We need about a hundred, 125-bed hospitals. So we want them to be smaller. We want to get the power system rebuilt resiliently. If we put most of it on the ground, put microgrids in place, add more solar, add more wind to the process, the total cost will be 850 million.
HU: What kind of reaction did you get from lawmakers?
MAPP: I got actually a very good reaction because there's no question the hurricanes are here. They're going to be coming. The waters are warmer, so they're going to be more intense. We used to think a 150-mile-an-hour hurricane was one in 25 years.
MAPP: We had two Cat 5s come 12 days apart.
HU: We should mention, at a hearing earlier this week, Senator Mike Lee of Utah...
HU: ...Said the Virgin Islands' Power and Water Authority had been plagued by corruption...
HU: ...And mismanagement in the past. And he wants to see more oversight over, quote, "every dollar spent in the recovery process." So in the wake of the canceled power contract with Puerto Rico over similar concerns, what are you doing to ensure...
MAPP: Well, first, I was very offended by Senator Lee's question because federal auditors have documented that we have put a system in place where we prosecute folks that steal water and power, that we terminate and fire and prosecute employees that get involved in the theft of water and power.
So I understand what may be going on with my neighbor, but I didn't think taking that brush and swashing it across the Virgin Islands as if - in any American city, that even if there were corrupt issues in any government, that the American citizens living in those cities then should be living in devastation and destruction because somehow you think that they're corrupt.
We hired Witt O'Brien's through a competitive bid process and Ernst & Young to set up a portal to ensure that we could track every dollar received, every dollar spent. We want the transparency. We want to be clear that the dollars we receive for the recovery go directly to aid the American citizens in the territory.
HU: Kenneth Mapp is the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Governor, thanks so much for coming in.
MAPP: Thank you.
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