Guam 'very blessed' with no early reports of major damage in the messy aftermath of Typhoon Mawar

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A building is flooded in Hagatna, Guam, Thursday, May 25, 2023, after Typhoon Mawar went through the area. (AP Photo/Grace Garces Bordallo)

HAGATNA – Chainsaws buzzed Friday as neighbors helped each other clear toppled trees and began cleaning the wreckage of Typhoon Mawar, which walloped Guam as the strongest typhoon to hit the island in over two decades but appeared to have passed without leaving death or massive destruction in its wake.

While it was still early going in the recovery effort, police Sgt. Paul Tapao said there did not seem to be any major damage, main arteries were passable and “Guam has been very blessed to have no storm-related deaths or any serious injuries.”

To Tapao, the roar of the mechanical saws was a reminder of the resilience of the storm-prone U.S. Pacific territory and its people.

“Everyone helps out with the cleaning,” he said. “That’s the Guamanian way — that’s embedded in the blood.”

He added that there's a saying in Chamorro — the indigenous language of the Mariana Islands — “inafa maolek,” that means cooperation, a concept of restoring harmony or order.

“Storms have taught our island to be resilient,” he said. “We’re still here.”

Still, officials said it could take weeks to clean up the mess after Mawar briefly made landfall as a Category 4 storm Wednesday on the northern tip of the U.S. Pacific territory of roughly 150,000 people, flipping cars, tearing off roofs and leaving trees bare.

Some villages had little or no water Friday, Tapao said. About 51,000 customers were without electricity, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And nearly 1,000 people were still in shelters as of Thursday, Guam officials said.

The central and northern parts of the island received more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain as the eyewall passed. The island’s international airport flooded, and the swirling typhoon churned up a storm surge and waves that crashed through coastal reefs and swamped houses.

In the southeastern village of Yona, the floodwaters reached above the waist at the home where Alexander Ken M. Aflague's mother-in-law and sister-in-law live, he said. Two trucks and an SUV were completely submerged.

Aflague said the mood on the island was like after every storm, as people assess the damage and move toward rebuilding their lives back to normal. His major worry was shortages, saying supplies were at levels similar to what they were like in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The cleanup is the struggle but we all pitch in and help each other, ” he said via text message.

Also in Yona, winds peeled back the roof of Enrique Baza’s mother’s house, allowing water to damage everything inside. His mother rode out the storm with him at his concrete residence, he said, but “my mom’s house didn’t escape.”

He drove around in a pickup after the storm passed looking for supplies to repair her roof, but most stores were without power and accepting only cash. Many wooden or tin homes were badly damaged or had collapsed outright.

“It’s kind of a shock,” Baza said.

Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero gave the “all clear” Thursday evening, returning the island to its typical condition of readiness as the National Weather Service lifted its typhoon watch.

“We have weathered the storm,” Leon Guerrero said. “The worst has gone by.”

The storm was expected to move northwest for days over a large, empty expanse of ocean and enter the Philippine “area of responsibility” late Friday or early Saturday. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Facebook that officials were preparing and the storm could bring heavy rainfall and flooding. Mawar could threaten Taiwan next week.

Mawar regained its status as a super typhoon on Thursday, with winds reaching 150 mph (241 kph). By early Friday, they had strengthened to 175 mph (282 kph), according to the weather service. Mawar, which means “rose” in Malay, was forecast to maintain that general course and speed through Saturday.

On Friday morning, Mawar was centered 345 miles (555 kilometers) west-northwest of Guam and 360 miles (579 kilometers) west of Rota, Guam’s neighbor to the north, moving west-northwest at 14 mph (23 kph).

Officials also declared all-clear on Rota, Saipan and Tinian on Thursday. Power was knocked out for all of Rota, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. said Thursday night. The island has about 2,500 residents.

As the typhoon crept slowly over Guam, it 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.

Leah del Mundo spent the night with her family in their concrete home in Chalan Pago, in central Guam. She said 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.”

Carlo Quinonez, who lives near Tamuning, said he rode out the storm in a hotel and felt “very lucky” that the building was largely unscathed. A nearby abandoned building lost many of its windows and part of a wall on the fifth story, Quinonez said.

“It was the peak that had us questioning our safety. Floors rattling and walls creaking. Tossing debris, and roots, and fruit everywhere,” he wrote in an email.

The Navy has 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.


Kelleher reported from Honolulu. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, and Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Sarah Brumfield in Washington, Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Ed Komenda in Seattle and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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