Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, although storms have been known to arrive earlier in the year and depart later.

Is the Caribbean ready?

Forecasters are in agreement that the six-month season could bring 12 to 15 named tropical storms. Of those storms, between six to eight are forecast to become hurricanes, with three to five developing into major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or higher.

Although there has been much progress on rebuilding and reopening after hurricanes Irma and Maria hit last September, some of the impacted islands are still grappling with severe power outages, lack of supplies, contractors, relief workers and funds.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization is sponsoring a series of briefings and updates on May 30 by tourism officials from the those countries affected by last September's storms, but here is what we know at this point.

Puerto Rico's electrical grid experienced an islandwide blackout on April 18 as workers struggled to repair an unstable power grid. It was the second major outage in less than a week, and one of many large power outages in recent months.

"These outages pinpoint the fact that Puerto Rico is still in a very fragile state," San Juan' mayor, Carmin Yulin Cruz, told CNN.

Federal officials who testified before Congress in mid-April said they expect to have a plan by June to stabilize the island's power grid. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the federal power restoration efforts, hopes to have the entire island fully powered by the end of the month.

More than 40,000 power customers still remain in the dark from last September's hurricanes, primarily in outlying rural areas.

However, San Juan is experiencing a strong cruise season; many hotels are back in business,with more coming online this summer; and lots of restaurants and shops have reopened.

An interesting development regarding recovery efforts in the Caribbean was the recent reassignment of Adrian Gardner, formerly the chief information officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the post of executive director of recovery communications technology in its Caribbean Area Division.

"His assignment is intended to address a critical need in the Caribbean, particularly with respect to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which suffered severe hurricane damage in 2017," FEMA said.

Gardner will help develop, deploy and sustain a digital smart infrastructure to support the current and future economic needs in the U.S. Caribbean, according to FEMA.

Government officials from the U.K. met recently with leaders in the Commonwealth Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis) to explore means of minimizing the impact of extreme weather events.

"Last year the infrastructure and economic wherewithal of a number of Caribbean nations and territories was devastated. Barbuda lost 95% of its infrastructure and Dominica lost 230% of its GDP, and they are both far from recovered," said Patricia Scotland, Commonwealth secretary general.

"We must prepare effective responses to this ominous threat of more severe storms, using all the resources the Commonwealth has to offer," Scotland said.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, commissioner of tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty reported that significant portions of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas have come back to pre-hurricanes status.

However, hotel inventory remains limited, with the largest resorts -- Frenchman's Reef  & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, Ritz-Carlton, Sugar Bay Resort & Spa on St. Thomas, Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach, and Caneel Bay and the Westin St. John Resort & Villas -- still out of commission until late this year and into 2019.

The commissioner said that rebuilding is focused on making infrastructure stronger and the destination more visitor friendly.

Cruise calls are back on schedule, and airlift capacity and schedules are matched to accommodations inventory.
All of the airlines that served St. Thomas before the hurricanes have returned, although not all are operating at the same frequency or capacity as at the pre-storm levels.

In the British Virgin Islands, premier Orlando Smith activated the disaster preparedness plan in April.

"We can never tell what will happen," Smith said. "Predictions vary at times, but we have to be prepared and have our shelters ready so we can look after those in need."

Buildings with peaked roofs withstood the storms' fury last fall, "and we now have to do the same thing and build back better and stronger to be resilient in what appears to be changes in weather patterns in this part of the world."

Anguilla's parliamentary secretary for tourism, Cardigan Connor, said that the island rebounded fairly quickly. Properties that have reopened include the Reef by CuisinArt, the Four Seasons Resort & Residences, Zemi Beach House and Frangipani Beach Resort, among others. The new Quintessence Hotel, just named a Relais and Chateaux member, debuted in January and  Belmond Cap Juluca will welcome guests starting Nov. 17.

In addition, a number of villa properties, restaurants and beach bars rebuilt quickly.

In Dominica, signs of Maria's wrath have begun to dissipate, and the island has benefitted from scores of tourists who volunteered their help and skills in clearing debris from roads, parks and natural attractions, according to tourism minister Robert Tonge.

"This enabled construction workers to focus on the rebuilding process for sustainable, stormproof structures," he said.

In Barbuda, where 95% of the buildings were destroyed, full recovery may be years away, and only a few hundred of its residents have returned to the island.

St. Maarten got a big boost from the World Bank's recent agreement with the Netherlands to channel $580 million to help rebuild hurricane-proof sustainable structures. World Bank teams are working with the governments of the Netherlands and St. Maarten to fast-track emergency projects that focus on disaster preparedness, rehabilitating water and electricity utilities, debris removal and hospitality training.

Airlift into St. Maarten now stands at 70% of what it was pre-Irma and Marie. Spirit Airlines was the latest carrier to resume its weekly service out of Fort Lauderdale.

French St. Martin has approximately 400 rooms out of 1,200 available, with several more properties opening this summer and fall, including Grand Case Beach Club in October.

But right now, it's an all-out effort to repair damaged roofs, stockpile emergency supplies and get rid of the debris and detritus that line the roadways on both the Dutch and French sides of the island.

St. Barts rebounded quickly, with 50% of its villas stock open and the rest slated to open for the 2018/2019 winter season. Of the island's 28 hotels, 18 are open and more plan to welcome guests later this year, including Eden Rock, Hotel Le Toiny and Le Barthelemy.


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