HAGATNA, Guam (AP) — Residents stockpiled supplies, closed windows and abandoned wood and tin houses for emergency shelters as Guam was buffeted by rains and winds Wednesday from Typhoon Mawar, the strongest storm to approach U.S. Pacific territory in decades.
The US military has turned ships away, President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration and anyone not living in a concrete house has been told to seek refuge elsewhere ahead of the typhoon, which was expected to arrive as a storm of category 4 with winds of around 140 mph (225 km/h) but could eventually strengthen in Category 5, the most powerful. The last time a Category 5 hit Guam directly was in 1962.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service office in Guam said they heard low rumblings and rattling shutters and doors as the storm intensified Wednesday afternoon.
“Stay indoors. Trees are falling; power lines are falling,” said Brandon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the service. “Everything is changing – it’s too dangerous to be outside.”
Many communities on the 212-square-mile (549-square-kilometre) island had lost power by the afternoon, and some to the south had lost water service.
Prior to the storm, Guam Governor Lou Leon Guerrero ordered residents of coastal, low-lying and flood-prone areas of the territory of more than 150,000 people to evacuate to higher elevations.
In low-lying Agat along the south coast, resident Reuel Drilon started getting ready on Friday and spent the weekend tying up patio furniture and garbage cans. Almost every house in the village, he said, has a mango tree – which authorities say could be uprooted and become roadblocks and deadly flying projectiles.
“A lot of people are watching the trees,” he told The Associated Press before the storm hit. “In the south we have a lot of coconut trees and mango trees.”
Guam is a crucial hub for US forces in the Pacific, and the Department of Defense controls about a third of the island. Rear Admiral Benjamin Nicholson, commander of the Joint Mariana Region, authorized the evacuation of defense personnel, dependents and employees from areas likely to be affected
All ships were moved out to sea as a standard precaution, the navy said, and all personnel remaining on the island were sheltering in place. About 6,800 US military personnel are assigned to Guam, according to the Pentagon.
As rain from the storm’s outer bands was already falling on the island late Wednesday morning, the typhoon had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) with gusts peaking at 170 mph (274 km/h). ), said Landon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Guam. Its center was about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of the island and moving north-northwest.
The weather service warned of ‘extensive damage’ from a ‘triple threat’ of winds, torrential rain and potentially deadly 4-6ft (1.2-2m) storm surge, with dangerous waves of 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters). He said the storm could hit Wednesday afternoon in the southern part of Guam, which lies west of the International Date Line and a day ahead of the mainland United States and Hawaii.
If Guam doesn’t take a direct hit, it will be very close, said Patrick Doll, the chief meteorologist for Guam’s weather service. Mawar is a Malaysian word meaning “rose”, he noted.
School buses picked up residents from community centers on the island and transported them to 11 elementary schools set up as shelters. Municipal workers in various villages warned residents to secure loose items in their yards and seek shelter immediately. Some spread the word over megaphones, while others took to social media. Power went off and on again as the rain and wind intensified, and authorities said nearly 900 people were in shelters.
Leon Guerrero urged locals in a YouTube post to remain calm and ordered the National Guard to help people in low-lying areas to evacuate, saying, “We are in the crosshairs of Typhoon Mawar. Act now.”
Guerrero said the emergency declaration would support resource mobilization in Guam, which is “especially critical given our distance from the continental United States.”
The storm was moving at 6 mph (10 km/h) but had an eye 17 miles (27 kilometers) wide, meaning people in the center of the typhoon could see calm conditions for more than three hours and conclude, way too soon, the worst is over, said doll. When the eye goes, winds can reach 150 mph (241 km/h) in minutes, so people should stay under cover until the government gives the go-ahead.
“People can say, ‘Hey, it’s over, we could go out and start cleaning up,'” Doll said. “It is totally false.
Joshua Paulino, customer manager at Xerox Guam, was sheltering in his home in the central village of Chalan Pago with his wife, two sons and mother after the family closed shutters and secured outdoor items. He was worried that the storm would dump rain on the island for a long time, as it was to pass gradually.
“This storm is moving very slowly, which makes me really uncomfortable,” Paulino said via text message.
And an ocean away in Los Angeles, Marichelle Tanag worried from afar after her parents, who are in their 70s and have survived numerous typhoons during their decades on the island. They boarded up the windows, stocked up on food for two weeks, got the generator ready and filled the tubs with water. Their home in Tamuning, also in central Guam, is made of concrete, but she worries about it nonetheless.
“Will the house hold? … If not, will they be able to get to another safe place if necessary, as quickly as possible, and not interfere with the flying debris? Tanag said over the phone.
Rota, an island in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, was also under a typhoon warning, Doll said. Tinian and Saipan in the Northern Marianas were under tropical storm warnings. Some people in these areas are still in temporary shelters or tents after Category 5 Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018, Doll noted.
Kelleher reported from Honolulu. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein and Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and Sarah Brumfield in Washington contributed.