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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Typhoon Mawar pounds Guam with high winds, knocking out power

The center of Mawar was moving northwest over the northern part of Guam on Wednesday night, weather officials said.

By Josie Moyer, Mar-Vic Cagurangan, Mike Ives and Derrick Bryson Taylor

Guam residents were waking up Thursday to survey the damage after a long night of whipping winds and lightning storms from Typhoon Mawar, which made its closest approach late Wednesday night and left much the U.S. Pacific territory without power.

The Category 4 storm, packing winds of 140 mph, reached its peak conditions “just prior to midnight” on Wednesday, according to a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Guam, which issued an update via livestream at 2 a.m. local time Thursday.

“Many of us have had a sleepless night so far as conditions have been thrashing across Guam for what seems like a very long time, starting early yesterday afternoon,” the meteorologist said during the livestream published on the weather service’s Facebook page. The good news, he said, was that conditions were “beginning to subside” as the storm exited the Mariana archipelago of which Guam is the southernmost and largest territory in the Pacific Ocean.

During a livestream to island residents on Wednesday night, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam urged people to stay home “for your safety and for your protection” until conditions were declared safe. Howling winds and banging sounds could be heard in the background as she spoke into the camera.

“What we are feeling right now is the eye going over the Rota Channel and the hardest of the winds of this typhoon is what we are experiencing, more so on the north,” she said, adding “I will be making an assessment of the devastation of our island as soon as it’s safe for me to go outside.”

A spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Twitter that the agency had activated its coordination center to support Guam and the Mariana Islands in the storm’s aftermath.

The storm was the strongest to hammer Guam in years and was expected to continue to generate tropical storm-force winds before weakening on Thursday, the weather service forecaster warned. The storm had moved 45 miles northwest of Guam as of 1 a.m. local time, but typhoon warnings remained in effect and were expected to be extended through much of the morning, with another update on weather conditions expected by 8 a.m. local time, the forecaster said.

The Guam Power Authority said that the island’s energy grid was providing power to only about 1,000 of its roughly 52,000 customers Wednesday afternoon, and that it was too dangerous for repair crews to venture outside. It had not updated those figures as of early Thursday morning in Guam.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. But the storm was so strong that it broke wind sensors and radar equipment that send meteorological data to the local weather service office — and brought all but two coconut trees outside the building crashing down, including what a forecaster said was “our prized mango tree” on the property.

“Reassure your children,” forecasters had warned during a Wednesday briefing. “You can hear the sounds, winds are howling, things are breaking. Just be together.”

The 150,000 or so people who live on Guam, an island nearly the size of Chicago that sits about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, are used to tropical cyclones. The last big one, Super Typhoon Pongsona, came ashore in 2002 with the force of a Category 4 hurricane and caused more than $700 million in damage.

Stronger building codes and other advances have minimized damage and deaths from major storms on Guam in recent years. In most cases, “We just barbecue, chill, adapt” when a tropical cyclone blows through, said Wayne Chargualaf, 45, who works at the local government’s housing authority.

But because it has been so long since Pongsona, “We have an entire generation that has never experienced this,” he added. “So a little bit of doubt started to creep into my mind. Are we really ready for this?”

The center of Mawar was moving northwest over the northern part of Guam on Wednesday night, weather officials said.

“The center does not need to make landfall to get catastrophic or really impactful scenarios,” Brandon Bukunt, a weather service meteorologist in Guam, said by phone.

The storm’s slow pace, about 8 mph on Wednesday night, raised the prospect of significant rainfall and flooding. A flash flood warning was in effect until Thursday morning, and the weather service said in an update that it expected up to 25 inches of rain in some areas. An extreme wind warning was also in place Wednesday night, with expected sustained winds of 115 mph or more. Guam is 14 hours ahead of Eastern time.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency for Guam, allowing federal agencies to assist with relief efforts. Local officials also issued evacuation orders and halted commercial aviation.

The storm was also affecting the U.S. military, which has a number of major facilities on the island. All military aircraft either left the island before the storm or were placed in protective hangars, Lt. Cmdr. Katie Koenig of the U.S. Navy said in a statement on Wednesday. All military ships left as well, except for a vessel that stayed in port with an engine problem, she said.

Tropical cyclones are called typhoons or hurricanes depending on where they originate. Typhoons, which tend to form from May to October, are tropical cyclones that develop in the northwestern Pacific and affect Asia. Studies say that climate change has increased the intensity of such storms, and the potential for destruction, because a warmer ocean provides more of the energy that fuels them.

Mawar, a Malaysian name that means “rose,” is the second named storm in the Western Pacific this season. The first, Tropical Storm Sanvu, weakened in less than two days.

Mawar was expected to move toward the Philippines over the next few days, but not before leaving a path of destruction across Guam.

Carlo Sgembelluri Pangelinan, 42, who sells container homes in a store in Barrigada Heights, a hilly, affluent neighborhood near Guam’s international airport, said he doubted the storm would be worse than anything he had lived through.

Still, he added, he worried about people who did not have adequate shelter, and animals without owners to care for them. Forecasters on Wednesday night repeatedly urged residents to remain sheltered through Thursday morning.

The island’s population is predominantly Catholic, and the Roman Catholic church in Guam said in a message to its congregants on Wednesday that the fear and anxiety permeating the island was understandable, in part because Super Typhoon Pongsona had left an “indelible impression” that could still be felt more than 20 years later.

“There is good that can be found amid storms,” the message said. “The kindness and care of people that emerge during such trials is one of them.”

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