Trump declares emergencies for Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico

By Danielle Haynes  |  Updated Sept. 18, 2017 at 8:41 PM
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Sept. 18 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump declared a federal emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto as Hurricane Maria bore down on the Caribbean on Monday.

The declaration makes federal funds available for the U.S. territories, which include St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Category 5 Hurricane Maria is threatening the islands less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma devastated the area, particularly the Virgin Islands. Last week, officials said it could take years for the U.S. Virgin Islands to recover from Irma, and it may take months for power to be restored. St. John was among the hardest hit islands in the Caribbean.

Residents were boarding up their already-damaged houses and some prepared to evacuate to shelters.

"People here are trying to get safe," St. Thomas resident Omari Williams told NBC News. "Officials are encouraging more people to come to public shelters especially if their home is already compromised."

Others were evacuating to Puerto Rico. USA Today reported about half of St. John's 4,500 residents fled the island since Irma.

East Island Excursions, which takes people on snorkeling trips, has made about 40 trips in the past week, taking residents of St. John to Puerto Rico. Founder and President Jayanne McLaughlin said the company is out about $80,000 out of pocket for the trips.

"Where is the Navy?" McLaughlin said. "They're telling them to evacuate St. John, but there are thousands of people still on the island. Where are the boats?"

On Monday, officials issued a hurricane warning for the U.S. Virgin Islands ahead of Maria's arrival. As of 5 p.m. EDT, the eye of Maria was located about 320 miles southeast of the U.S. territory. The National Hurricane Center forecasts the center of the storm will skirt just south of St. Croix on Tuesday before making landfall on another U.S. territory, Puerto Rico, on Wednesday.

In Puerto Rico, about 46,000 people were without electricity and 6,000 were without drinking water from Hurricane Irma, which passed near the island but did not make direct landfall.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Maria could be more dangerous.

"The priority is to be prepared and save lives," he said.

FEMA sent a ship with more than 1 million gallons of water and 111 generators to Puerto Rico, and emergency officials set up 450 shelters, Rosselló said.

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