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W.Va. Guard troops to ride out Maria in Virgin Islands

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Thirteen members of the West Virginia Army National Guard are in the Virgin Islands helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. They’ll soon get an up close look at what she looked like when Hurricane Maria arrives later in the week.

Members of the W.Va. Army National Guard as they prepared to leave for the Virgin Islands last week

“They were working in St. Thomas. We’ve moved them back to St. Croix at the Virgin Island National Guard Headquarters,” West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer told MetroNews Tuesday. “We determined after discussion with them, because of the timing and ability to move people out, it was in our best interest to have our folks stay in place.”

The Virgin Islands facility was built to withstand a Category 5 storm and held up well during Irma. West Virginia Guard leadership and the team are in hourly communication and will continue with status updates as Maria approaches.

“We’ll have a regular, hourly communication call,” said Hoyer. “We’ve got good control of what the situation is for our folks down there.”

The unit specializes in damage assessment in the wake of mass disaster. They had just gotten started on their evaluation of infrastructure from Irma’s aftermath. Now, those files will be tossed out and they’ll have to start all over. However, the new immediate mission will be to survive the next storm.

“They have the appropriate level of supplies and support,” Hoyer said. “The facility they’ll be in was built specifically on St. Croix in the center of the island to weather major events.”

The alternative to sheltering was to evacuate then return once the storm had passed. Maria’s path limited any good choices. The most likely spot would have been Puerto Rico, which also lies directly in Maria’s path.

“If you evacuate to Puerto Rico, you’re going to be in mass shelters with thousands of people who are going to be sheltering there,” said Hoyer.

It’s a different kind of deployment to assist in the aftermath of a storm rather than into a hostile war zone, but Hoyer said any deployment carries an inherent risk and always leaves guard leadership with knots in their stomach about the possible scenarios.

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