Guam residents and officials emerged from homes and shelters Thursday to survey the damage done to the U.S. Pacific territory after a long night of hunkering down as Typhoon Mawar's howling winds shredded trees, flipped vehicles and knocked out utilities.
The central and northern parts of the island received more than 2 feet of rain as the eyewall passed, and most of Guam received about a foot of rain during the storm, said Brandon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The island's international airport flooded, and the swirling storm churned up a storm surge and waves that crashed through coastal reefs.
“We are waking up to a rather disturbing scene out there across Guam. We’re looking out our door and what used to be a jungle looks like toothpicks — it looks like a scene from the movie ‘Twister,’ with trees just thrashed apart," said Landon Aydlett, his twin brother and fellow NWS meteorologist.
“Most of Guam is dealing with a major mess that’s gonna take weeks to clean up,” he added.
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The strongest typhoon to hit the territory of roughly 150,000 people since 2002, Mawar briefly made landfall around 9 p.m. local time Wednesday night as a Category 4 storm at Andersen Air Force Base on the northern tip of the island, weather service officials said.
“It was on land for about 30 to 35 minutes before it moved back offshore,” said Patrick Doll, another NWS meteorologist.
As it crept slowly over the island, the typhoon sent solar panels flying and crumbled part of a hotel's exterior wall to the ground, according to videos posted on social media. At what felt like its peak intensity, the winds screeched and howled like jets, and water swamped some homes.
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Leah del Mundo spent the night with her family in their concrete home in Chalan Pago, in central Guam. She told The Associated Press they tried to sleep but were awakened “by violent shaking of the typhoon shutters and the whistling strong winds.”
“It’s not our first rodeo,” she said via text message. “We’ve been through worse. But we brace ourselves for the cleanup, repairs, restoration afterwards.”
Buildings made of concrete in storm-prone Guam seemed to fare well. “If your home is not made of concrete, your life and property are in peril with typhoons like these,” del Mundo said.
In Tumon, on Guam’s northeastern shore, winds tore a granite countertop from a hotel’s outdoor bar and tossed it 4 feet (about a meter) in the air. Guests scrambled to stack chairs to brace the doors, and windows buckled and creaked.
“It was like a freight train going on outside,” said Thomas Wooley, who recounted how wind and rain pushed through the aluminum shutters of his family's concrete home overlooking Tumon Bay. When day broke, he found their outdoor china cabinet toppled and its contents shattered on the ground. A chainsaw-wielding cousin helped clear downed branches.
“We’ve got tons of work to do,” Wooley said. “It’s going to take a few days to clean it up.”
The scope of the damage was difficult to ascertain early on, with power and internet failures making communication with the far-flung island difficult.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio were assessing the situation after the island “received the full brunt of the typhoon overnight,” emergency management officials said in a statement. They planned a driving tour to look for any major damage or blocked roadways.
J. Asprer, a police officer in the Dededo precinct in northern Guam, said before dawn that he had not received any reports of injuries but several police cars and personal vehicles had been damaged by debris and uprooted trees made some roads impassable. Most of the calls overnight came from worried people off-island who were unable to reach family members.
“We told them we’ll have to wait until the storm clears up a bit,” he said.
Ray Leon Guerrero, mayoral office assistant in Barrigada who is not related to the governor, said a village of about 9,000 people in central Guam, stayed at the office overnight and heard objects slamming into the roof and outside walls constantly.
“Oh man. It was pretty noisy,” he said.
Guam’s weather service office in Tiyan said it would shut down operations in the morning for workers to get home to families and assess damage at their homes. Counterparts in the Honolulu office took over their duties.
In a sign of how much help Guam might need, the Navy ordered the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group to head to the island to assist in the recovery effort, according to a U.S. official. The Nimitz, along with the USS Bunker Hill, a cruiser, and the USS Wayne E. Meyer, a destroyer, were south of Japan and expected to arrive in Guam in three or four days, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ship movements not yet made public.
Guam is about 3,800 miles (6,115 kilometers) west of Hawaii and 1,600 miles (1,575 kilometers) east of the Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
By early Thursday, Mawar was centered 75 miles (121 kilometers) northwest of Guam and 85 miles (137 kilometers) west of Rota, Guam’s neighbor to the north, moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph).
Power was also knocked out for all of Rota, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. said late Wednesday. The island has about 2,500 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The storm strengthened to 150 mph (241 kph) winds Thursday to regain its status as a super typhoon, according to the weather service. Mawar, a Malaysian word that means “rose,” was forecast to intensify further.
After moving away from Guam, the storm is expected to track generally northwest over a large, empty of expanse of ocean for days, and it could threaten Taiwan next week.
Guam is a crucial hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific, with about 6,800 service members assigned to the island, according to the Pentagon. Military officials evacuated personnel, dependants and employees, sent ships out to sea and moved aircraft off the island or secured them in protective hangars.