Typhoon Mawar leaves blackouts, flooded streets and debris behind on Guam
Stars and Stripes May 25, 2023
Most of Guam was still without power Thursday evening thanks to Typhoon Mawar, the strongest storm the island has seen in decades, but the U.S. territory appears to have avoided worst-case scenarios.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is staged to help island residents recover from the damage, according to a senior agency official. The typhoon thundered into the 210-square-mile territory Wednesday afternoon with 138 mph sustained winds and gusts of 167 mph.
“I can tell you that the Red Cross is already working in the area - they have about a dozen disaster workers there - and they’ve accounted for nearly 1,000 people who stayed in more than 15 community and partner shelters across the island as the storm rolled in,” FEMA official Sherman Gillums Jr. told Stars and Stripes by phone Thursday.
Mawar’s outer bands were expected to deliver 20-25 mph winds, 40 mph gusts and heavy showers through Thursday night, Guam’s Joint Information Center said that evening.
Across the island, Guam government officials were assessing the damage and preparing recovery efforts, a spokeswoman for the island’s governor said by phone Thursday afternoon.
“There’s a meeting ongoing right now to discuss ongoing outages,” said Krystal Paco-San Agustin. “Right now, our top priority is power and water restoration and clearing up debris for the roadways.”
First responders rescued several people from their homes and got them to emergency shelters, she said, but, so far, no deaths have been reported.
“Response efforts began as early as daybreak, when it was safe to do so,” the information center said Thursday.
Central and northern Guam, including Andersen Air Force base and Marine Corps Camp Blaz, took the brunt of the storm with more than 2 feet of rain, The Associated Press reported Thursday morning. About a foot of rain fell elsewhere on the island.
For Andersen resident Alina Wright, the storm didn’t result in structural damage to her home, but she did have water come in through the front door. Sandbags and duct tape didn’t help, she told Stars and Stripes on Thursday morning via Facebook Messenger.
“It was a long night,” she said.
Only 1,000 of the 52,000 buildings serviced by the Guam Power Authority had electricity as of 3:35 p.m. Wednesday, according to a Facebook post by the utility. Crews will work “24/7” to clear the lines and restore power, it reported Thursday evening.
“We recognize that the widespread power outages make post-typhoon recovery difficult,” the utility said. “We are working to restore your power as soon as possible.”
The Guam Waterworks Authority in a Facebook post Wednesday told consumers to expect “low to no water” during and immediately after the storm.
The water company on Thursday advised residents to conserve water when possible and to boil all water to avoid possible bacterial contamination.
“Villages are experiencing water outages and crews are working to restore service at this time,” the utility provider said in a news release from Guam’s Joint Information Center.
FEMA by 1 a.m. Thursday had deployed or pre-staged more than 130 personnel to support emergency response activities, Gillums said. President Joe Biden on Tuesday approved an emergency declaration for Guam, authorizing FEMA to coordinate relief efforts.
The agency has more than 100 generators ready to distribute as needed, Gillums said, and FEMA’s distribution center is “fully stocked with about four times the amount of food and water” than it stocked for Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018.
FEMA spent $4.4 million in assistance on Guam — $2.5 million to individuals — following Mangkhut, which destroyed 22 homes and damaged another 155, according to an agency fact sheet.
FEMA took lots of lessons away from Mangkhut, Gillums said.
“As these situations become more fluid, they also become an opportunity for us to continue to evolve our response,” he said.
The Pentagon has also ordered the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its strike group to assist in the typhoon recovery, AP reported Wednesday. A 7th Fleet spokesperson did not immediately respond to phone and email inquiries about that operation on Thursday.