HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
6 SEPTEMBER, 2022
REMEMBERING THE PASSAGE OF HURRICANE IRMA
A pleasant good day to the people of the Virgin Islands.
Over the last few days, the rain has been falling, and it engenders unpleasant memories of the most catastrophic disaster in the history of these Virgin Islands. But let us not forget the goodness of God, for even in the midst of the storm, rainbows emerge. After the stormy clouds, God’s sunshine brightens our lives. Indeed, joy cometh in the morning.
So let the story of the storm be a celebration of God’s grace and mercies. It is a story of resilience, and a story of rebirth.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the passage of Hurricane Irma that struck this Territory on 6 September 2017. It was indeed one of the most harrowing experiences for the Virgin Islands and its people in recent times.
On this day, natural disaster struck, devastating our homes, our public buildings, infrastructure, personal possessions, livestock, businesses, livelihoods, industries and our economy.
Estimates put the immediate damage in the region of $2.3billion.
We lost four lives directly to the event, and many others indirectly afterwards due to physical and emotional causes. Today we remember the departed and we pray for them and their families.
In the moment, the devastation and the losses seemed and felt insurmountable. But it is at low points like these that we discover who we truly are and what we are made of. BVI strong!
History will reflect that in the aftermath of Irma and a second Category 5 hurricane, Hurricane Maria, just two weeks later, that the indomitable spirit and resilience of the Virgin Islands people burst forward.
With our limited resources, some help from neighbours and friends, and our strength that comes from our Faith in our God, we cleaned up the debris, restored vital infrastructure, and started rebuilding our homes and our lives.
We have continued the recovery process over the past five years, despite the interruption of COVID, by delivering recovery projects financed by the CDB Recovery and Rehabilitation loan and our own financial resources.
I am very pleased that many of these recovery projects have been completed by Virgin Islands contractors who have done an outstanding job.
With the support of the Recovery and Development Agency (RDA) under the leadership of Mr. Anthony McMaster, major roads such as Ballast Bay, Great Mountain and Little Dix Hill have been restored.
We have also rebuilt Government Administration buildings on Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost van Dyke. Work on the Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex is ongoing, well managed and near completion.
We have also restored several schools. The Elmore Stoutt High School Redevelopment Project is almost complete. And other school projects are at different stages of implementation. We have ensured that the needs of our future generations are secured.
We have also repaired and upgraded recreation and community facilities. And the list goes on.
I want to say a special thank you to all the donors whose contributions have helped us rebuild, especially in the education sector. More support for rebuilding and fixing schools has been announced for which we are grateful.
Our resilience and determination as a society have turned the misfortunes from Irma into opportunities for building greater resilience as a society.
Our local contractors are getting the opportunities for growth and to strengthen their capabilities, especially with building structures to withstand natural disasters. This has many benefits for our economy - chief of which is increasing the amount of money that stays our shores and circulating in our economy.
The resilience of our financial services industry has sustained government revenues during this time. As our tourism industry was halted, confidence in our financial services industry remained high and provided revenues to carry us through. We see the wisdom of our predecessors when they chose to establish our financial services industry in the 1980’s.
We still have much to do by way of continuing our recovery as we rebuild for development and greater resilience, but we have made substantial progress since Irma struck five years ago, and we must recognise and remember this.
The greatest lesson we can take from this experience is that with Trust in God, the support of our partners, and belief in ourselves, we, the people of the Virgin Islands, can triumph over anything – and we emerge stronger from every challenge that confronts us.
This has been the way of our fore-parents, whose legacy we carry on, and which legacy we will pass on to future generations of Virgin Islanders. Our endurance as a people is reflected in every chapter of our Virgin Islands story. And the chapter of September 2017 is no exception.
Our experience has delivered us a reminder that we can have hope and we can aspire, because we can have confidence in ourselves and our human and natural resources.
As we remember the passage of Irma, we pray for the families of those persons who were lost in the storm.
I encourage everyone to remain in a high state of prepared for this hurricane season.
I pray for God’s continued guidance and protection of these beautiful Virgin Islands and all its people.
I thank you.