Bertha makes an Election Day return to the USVI


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Tropical Storm Bertha is expected to make her way into the territory today with 50 mph winds in the morning hours and rainfall lasting throughout the day.

Crucians can expect her to arrive at sunrise, and St. Thomians can expect her to arrive several hours later, in the mid-morning, according to the National Weather Service.

"We're not expecting it to get any stronger than it is now," said Krizia Negron, a meteorologist based out of the National Weather Service's offices in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

At press time early Saturday, the storm had sustained winds of 50 mph, with higher gusts, and was about 180 miles southeast of St. Croix and moving west-northwest at about 22 mph.

The winds were not expected to strengthen today because the storm still is encountering ample dry air, according to the National Weather Service. The winds are extending outward as far as 115 miles, mainly to the northeast of the storm's center.

A tropical storm warning, which cautions regions of storm conditions expected to arrive within 24 hours, was in effect Friday night for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Vieques and Culebra.

Other islands also were on a tropical storm watch, which means conditions are set to arrive in 48 hours.

The storm has been strengthening since early in the week, when it initially was a tropical wave. Not until Thursday late night, after the National Hurricane Center received updates from the Hurricane Hunter aircraft following the storm, did the National Weather Service name the tropical storm.

The name, Bertha, is the same as a Category 1 hurricane that swept through the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1996, shutting down the territory's primary elections.

"If it doesn't do any serious damage, we recycle the names every six years," Negron said. "We don't use names if the storm caused a lot of really bad memories for people. Like Katrina, we won't use that name again."

Emergency response

The V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency began its storm-readiness by calling a meeting Thursday afternoon of many V.I. government agencies and also welcomed a 20-person emergency response team to the territory Friday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Local emergency responders are prepared to assist today with weather-related emergencies, and all leave for V.I. Police officers was suspended Friday. Officers are beginning 12-hour shifts today.

No curfew had been implemented for the Virgin Islands on Friday, VITEMA Executive Director Eltom Lewis said, but the agency's Emergency Operations Centers were partially activated in response to Bertha.

Election activity

Ironically, primary elections again fall on the arrival of a Bertha, though this time she is a tropical storm and not a hurricane, and she is not expected to shut down the election, which in 1996 had to be moved to a later date.

V.I. Elections System officials have been following the storm's progress and said if the election schedule needed to be changed, they would make an announcement on Friday. That did not occur, and the election is scheduled as planned.

Other territorial government agencies also have been paying close attention to the progress of Bertha.

Ports

The U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port in San Juan, Puerto Rico, set Port Condition Zulu - the closure of all inbound and outbound vessels from the sea ports - at midnight.

Ferry service from Red Hook, St. Thomas, to Cruz Bay, St. John, was suspended Friday night, and the Coast Guard will monitor storm conditions today to conduct port assessments to determine when it is safe to open the ports.

Tropical Storm Bertha also caused a change in itinerary for the cruise ship Carnival Liberty, which was scheduled to arrive at the West Indian Co. dock on Tuesday. Instead, WICO said Friday that Liberty will dock in St. Thomas on Monday, arriving at 10 a.m. and depart for St. Maarten at 8 p.m.

WICO said Friday it had not been advised of additional schedule changes or cancellations from other cruise lines.

Boaters

The V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources recommended that all boaters are prepared for the storm by relocating their vessels to one of several suggested safe havens, including: Benner Bay, Mandahl Pond and Flamingo Bay in the St. Thomas-St. John District, and Salt-River in the St. Croix District.

Hurricane Hole is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, so boaters were told to coordinate with the park service on St. John for an assigned mooring location there.

DPNR also asked that boaters do not stay on their vessels and instead seek shelter on land. The agency also said that securing vessels to nearby trees should only be done when necessary by using proper chaffing material on all lines, which must be removed immediately after the storm.

Communication to boaters will be via press release or V.I. Radio on marine channel 16, according to DPNR.

After the storm, owners of vessels that have sunk or washed ashore are required to notify DPNR with the vessel's location and an estimated time when the owner will salvage the vessel. Vessel owners are responsible for removing wrecked vessels.

Tourists

The V.I. Tourism Department estimated on Friday that about 5,000 visitors currently are on-island in both districts. No flight cancellations or disruptions had been announced Friday, though the department said it will keep in contact with the hotels, resorts and inns in both districts.

Beaches

In lieu of its weekly report about water quality at the territory's beaches, DPNR issued an advisory that it anticipates negative environmental impacts from Bertha and advised the public to refrain from using the waters throughout the territory until the effects subside.

DPNR also is advising parents to instruct their children to keep away from beaches affected by storm water or flooding from manholes, because there may be an elevated health risk to anyone swimming in affected areas as a result of increased concentrations of bacteria. The same goes for guts, puddles, and drainage basins.

Roads

The V.I. Public Works Department is making sandbags available to areas that need them. The department was clearing guts on Friday in an effort to clear waterways that may get flushed out today.

WAPA

The V.I. Water and Power Authority said it readied its power plants Friday and that it has enough fuel was on hand and its potable water system is prepared for the storm.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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