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Meet Greg Guannel

Title: Director Affiliation: Caribbean Green Technology Center
Interview Date: May 31, 2018
Interview Language: English
Spatial coverage: U.S. Virgin Islands
Topics Covered in this Interview:
– St. Thomas, drought
– mangroves

Interview Highlights

On the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma in St. Thomas
All the vegetation was gone … and there was no power. The power went off half hour within the hurricane. And the electricity system is very unreliable, so it’s not like we were surprised. But we were surprised to see all the poles down, and we realized that this was a big deal. … No power means no running water. …
The amount of roofs that were gone, I mean it was really impressive … you need to see some pictures to really understand. … It was very impressive to see that on the other side of us, the other side of the valley, all the houses were damaged and the roofs were gone. So I think we just lucked out because on our side all the houses were just completely fine, no damage whatsoever. So I think it was the orientation of the wind mostly. …
We tried to live in our house but there was just bugs everywhere. I mean bugs everywhere … the wildlife was really confused and iguanas were in the middle of the streets. All the wildlife, all the birds, the mongoose, the iguanas, the chickens, everything was very confused. There were all type of bugs that I’d never seen before, and lots of mosquitoes. It was just terrible, especially with kids. … [So] we decided that for the sanity of everybody we would go back to our colleague’s house.

On the experience of going through Hurricane Maria, just two weeks later
We started to hear about Maria … probably a week after Irma. … Maria hit during the night. … It was just a very tense day, a very quiet but very tense day where everybody was just sort of preparing themselves. [When Maria hit] I was texting and sending messages to my friends and my family outside the Virgin Islands to let them know … how things were progressing. …
I think Maria was scarier. I don’t know why. I think Maria was scarier because it was at night. … Where we were, we could hear the wind more, and it [sounded] like a train. And then there was just so much water. It just kept on raining, and so we had water coming into the house. … Nothing was moving structurally, but water was coming in like crazy.

On the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria
I’m a coastal engineer. … So I was looking a lot at the response of the shoreline, looking at how mangroves were flattened, lost their leaves, and then [there was] a lot of erosion. … Where there were narrow beaches … the roads were sort of affected, in terms of their integrity, so again thinking about how far do we build from the coast and things like that, you know? A lot of the structures that were on the beach, very close to the beach, were destroyed, so again thinking about set back distances, thinking about, you know, minimum width and stuff like that.

On experiencing drought
We’ve had a drier year, last year, before Irma and Maria. … So the way that I was impacted by drought … is my cistern emptied and I had to buy water. And I had to basically be very careful about my water usage. It’s like 200 bucks to fill up [the cistern].

On preparing for future droughts
It seems that there are some things you can do to minimize the impact of drought. … And I think you know, from a mitigation outreach, initial sort of entry, I think communicating those management practices is best. You know, like the same way that I’m thinking about, “What does that mean?” for coastal risk reduction. So, they’re asking the same thing, what does that mean for drought risk reduction? Being able to understand that helps me put my work in a larger perspective.