How Michael Bloomberg landed in the center of the Virgin Islands’ hurricane recovery


USA Today reports on former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is known for his activism on climate change and gun safety, and who has become involved in hurricane recovery in the Caribbean, specifically in the U.S. Virgin Islands:

But what started off as an effort to provide quick emergency assistance in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his Bloomberg L.P., co-founder Tom Secunda has a home, has turned into a new kind of project for Bloomberg and his key aides, putting them at Ground Zero of efforts to rebuild the tiny U.S. territory. And there’s a chance it could grow into a Bloomberg specialty as coastal communities and islands like these cope with increasingly extreme weather.

A team of five Bloomberg aides, many with Hurricane Sandy experience, have embedded themselves with Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp and other key local officials, providing behind-the-scenes guidance on everything from electricity restoration to negotiating additional money from Federal Emergency Management Agency for housing assistance.

“St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix were not on my radar until Tom called,” Bloomberg said, referring to his business partner who has property on St. John, the smallest of the three main Virgin Islands. “But you go where the need is and where you think you can do something.”

The territory of about 105,000 residents is reeling from the worst hurricane season in modern history. Two Category 5 storms — Hurricanes Irma and Maria — walloped the islands in September. Irma struck first, pummeling St. Thomas and St. John.

A Bloomberg team that included Secunda and three former FEMA officials who now work as contractors in disaster assistance arrived by private plane two days after Irma and met with Mapp and his team within hours of landing. [. . .] The former mayor himself visited about a week after Irma, with former San Antonio Spurs star and St. Croix native Tim Duncan, to deliver a planeload of relief supplies.

Then, later that month, the territory sustained another blow when Hurricane Maria strafed the southern coast of St. Croix, the largest of the Virgin Islands, before taking aim at Puerto Rico and its 3.4 million residents.

Several of Bloomberg’s aides stayed on in the islands, including Cas Holloway, who was New York City’s deputy mayor for operations during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and now serves as global head of technical support at Bloomberg L.P.  As Bloomberg and his aides learned first-hand in Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency can unleash vast federal resources to help governments and individuals recover from a storm, but local officials drive the restoration — structuring contracts, hiring workers and deciding how to rebuild the electrical grid, for example.

That’s where Bloomberg team stepped in, helping link V.I. officials with hurricane-experienced consultants and providing guidance on FEMA’s regulations. [. . .]

Although electrical power has been restored to only about a third of the islands’ residents, FEMA, local officials, and the Bloomberg team point to signs of progress. Among them: The hundreds of linesman from the U.S. mainland who have descended in a scramble to restore 90% of power by year’s end. [. . .]

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