by Brian Major
Last updated: 11:07 AM ET, Mon January 15, 2018
One of the Caribbean destinations hardest hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria is closer than ever to full recovery.
Electrical power has been restored to more than 90 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands said Kenneth Mapp, the U.S. Virgin Islands governor, this week.
The power restoration is a key step in the tourism-reliant country's comeback from the devastating storms.
As of January 5, electricity had been restored to 92 percent of eligible customers across the territory, Mapp said: "This is a near miracle and on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands, I give each and every one of them my deepest gratitude."
Almost 90 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands was in the dark for weeks as nearly all of the territory's wooden electric poles were downed.
"Mobilizing sufficient personnel, heavy equipment and materials from the mainland to restore power took a herculean effort," said Mapp.
Ultimately 8,851 poles and 5.6 million feet of wire were replaced.
In addition to causing four casualties on St. Thomas, the storms wrecked public and hospitality sector infrastructure across St. Thomas and St. John, said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the U.S. Virgin Islands' commissioner of tourism.
Beyond the lack of electricity, the territory struggled with impaired roads, weakened infrastructure, sunken boats that hampered navigation and several beaches considered unsafe for swimming. The U.S. Virgin Islands reportedly received $800 million in emergency loans from a $36.5 billion disaster recovery bill approved by the U.S. Congress last year.
To date, more than 70 percent of the territory's hotels rooms are not operational, with some closed to travelers but housing relief workers, said Department of Tourism officials.
Many of the region's major hotel properties will not re-open until late this year, including St. Croix's Caravelle Hotel & Casino, Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino, Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa and St. John's Caneel Bay and Westin St. John Resort & Villas, which remains closed until further notice. The Department of Tourism is providing updates on the hospitality segment on its website.
St. Thomas' popular Bolongo Bay resort, which has hosted relief workers for weeks following the storms, is expected to re-open to guests in June. The Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort will remain closed through December 31; Officials at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas said the resort will re-open in January 2019.
Historic downtown Charlotte Amalie, on the other hand, is in relatively good shape, as the government, local stakeholders and cruise line officials teamed to tackle problems ranging from road clearance to debris cleanup to beach restoration in the storms' aftermath.
In addition to its crucial role in U.S. Virgin Islands land-based tourism, Charlotte Amalie is among the world's most heavily visited cruise ports.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. partnered with the Department of Tourism and the Magen's Bay Authority to restore Magen's Bay Beach, one of the territory's most popular beaches and a favorite with cruise-ship visitors, following the storms. The beach re-opened on December 7, by which time cruise traffic had reached 90 percent of pre-storm bookings. The port is expected to reach full pre-storm activity this month.
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