Hurricane Preparedness, Response and Recovery Guide for the United States Virgin Islands Open Access

Alemayehu, Blen (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL:


The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) are composed of four small islands located at the Eastern end of the Great Antilles in the northern Caribbean Sea. The USVI are located in Hurricane Alley which makes the area highly susceptible to many natural disasters, especially hurricanes. In the past 25 years, 11 major hurricanes have caused substantial damage to the USVI. Hurricanes are massive storm systems that form over ocean water and often move toward land. Hurricane season starts June 1st and ends November 30th every year. Most major hurricanes occur between August and September. Depending on wind speed, hurricanes are classified according to the Saffir-Simpson scale (Categories 1 through 5): category one is the least destructive and category five is the most destructive. Hurricane effects vary depending on the category and can be considerable. Some of the threats from hurricanes include high winds, heavy rainfall, storm surge, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, flood damage, flying debris, damage by fallen trees, the collapse of buildings, and tornadoes. During an active hurricane, the greatest threat to life and property is from the storm surge. Storm surge can severely erode beaches, coastal highways and damage property along the coastline.

Hurricanes have become more frequent and intense over the past few years. On September 6, 2017, Hurricanes Irma devastated St. Thomas and St. John with sustained winds of 106 mph for 14 days(1). Later, on September 20th, Hurricane Maria passed through the western end of St. Croix with sustained winds of 178 mph and hit the U.S. Virgin Islands (2).

Hurricanes are the most costly natural disaster. The year 2017 had a historically high cost of 306 billion USD in hurricane disaster damage, relief and recovery that impacted the United States economy (3). It is critical that all affected regions have a preparedness, response and recovery plan in action. Although preparedness is key in reducing damage caused by hurricanes, immediate response to hurricanes can save lives and minimize disaster damage. Lastly, Collaboration among governmental, non-governmental, local community, volunteers and disaster relief workers are essential. 

Table of Contents

Abstract         6

List of Abbreviations  9

Table 1: Abbreviations           9

Introduction   9

Methodology  10

Table 2: Literature Search Strategy   12

Literature Review      13

Brief review of the United States Virgin Islands.      13

St. Croix          13

St. Thomas     13

St. John           14

Water Island  14

Hurricane History in the United States of Virgin Islands.      15

Hurricane Hugo (1989)          15

Hurricane Marilyn (1995)      15

Hurricane Bertha (1996)        16

Hurricane Erika (1997)           16

Hurricane Georges (1998)     16

Hurricane Lenny (1999)         17

Hurricane Omar (2008)         17

Hurricane Earl (2010) 17

Hurricane Irma          17

Hurricane Maria        18

Hurricanes     18

Table 3 Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale        19

Hurricane effects       19

Storm Surge   19

High Winds    20

Frequency and Intensity of hurricanes in the US. Virgin Islands      20

Figure 1 Number of Category 5 Hurricane from (1900-2018)          21

Figure 2 Data: National Hurricane Center, Graphic: Michael Lowry (September 19th, 2017)         21

Economic Impacts of Hurricanes       22

Economic Impact of Hurricanes on the United States Virgin Islands 22

History of Hurricane preparedness   23

Hurricane preparedness/Emergency Preparedness 24

Figure 3 Disaster Management cycle 24

Vulnerability  25

Hurricane response and recovery      26

Governmental vs non-governmental response         28

Figure 4 US 2017 Billion-Dollar weather and Climate Disaster. (NOAA)      28

Community Involvement Gap 29

Mitigation and resilience       30

Lesson learned from Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma  31

Public health relevance         31

The effect of hurricane on mental health     32

Hurricane impact on the Environment          33

Brief review on public health and emergency preparedness 33

Hurricane related Infectious diseases           33

Leptospirosis  34

Vector-borne disease 34

Recommendations    35

Conclusion      36

References     38

About this Master's Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Partnering Agencies
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files