Typhoon Mawar brought hurricane-force winds as it passed Guam on Wednesday, snapping trees, raising fears of flash flooding and leaving most of the United States without power.
The storm, which has the strength of a Category 4 hurricane, was the strongest to hit the Pacific island in years and could intensify further on Wednesday night, forecasters warned. The Guam Power Authority said the island’s power grid was only providing power to about 1,000 of its roughly 52,000 customers as of Wednesday afternoon and was too dangerous for repair crews to s to venture outside.
No injuries were reported immediately. But the storm was so strong it broke the radar equipment that sends weather data to the local National Weather Service office – and crashed the tallest tree outside the building into the driveway.
The roughly 150,000 people who live on Guam, a Chicago-sized island about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, are used to tropical cyclones. The last major typhoon, Super Typhoon Pongsona, made landfall in 2002 with Category 4 hurricane strength and caused more than $700 million in damage.
Stricter building codes and other advances have minimized damage and fatalities from major storms in Guam in recent years. In most cases, “we’re just barbecuing, relaxing, adjusting” when a tropical cyclone blows, said Wayne Chargualaf, 45, who works at the local government housing authority.
But because it’s been so long since Pongsona, “We have a whole generation that has never experienced this,” he added. “So a bit of doubt started creeping into my mind. Are we really ready for this?
The center of Mawar appeared to be rolling west over northern Guam early Wednesday evening, said Guam Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Bukunt. Although the storm was unlikely to officially make landfall, he added, its dangerous southern eyewall was moving over the central and northern part of the island.
“The center doesn’t need to land to get catastrophic or really impactful scenarios,” Mr Bukunt said by phone, after the weather service released a rare “extreme wind warningfor the northern part of Guam on Wednesday evening. Guam is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time.
The slow pace of the storm, around three mph, raised the prospect of heavy rainfall and flooding. A flash flood warning was in effect until early Thursday morning, and the weather service said in an update that it expected up to 25 inches of rain to fall in some areas.
President Biden declared an emergency for Guam on Tuesday, allowing federal agencies to participate in relief efforts. Local officials have also issued evacuation orders and halted commercial aviation.
The storm was also affecting the US military, which has a number of major installations on the island. All military aircraft there left the island before the storm or were placed in protective hangars, Lt. Cmdr. The US Navy’s Katie Koenig said in a statement Wednesday. All the military ships also left, except for one ship which remained in port with an engine problem, she said.
Tropical cyclones are called typhoons or hurricanes depending on their origin. Typhoons, which tend to form from May to October, are tropical cyclones that develop in the Pacific Northwest and affect Asia. Studies indicate that climate change has increased the intensity of these storms and the potential for destruction, as a warmer ocean provides more energy that powers them.
Mawar, a Malay name meaning “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 to 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 at a store in Barrigada Heights, a hilly and affluent neighborhood near Guam International Airport, said he doubted the storm was worse than anything he had lived.
Still, he added, he worried about people who lacked adequate shelter and animals without owners to care for them.
The island’s population is overwhelmingly Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Church of Guam said in a message to worshipers on Wednesday that the fear and anxiety that permeates the island is 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 in the midst of storms,” the message read. “The kindness and caring of people who emerge during such hardships is part of that.”
John Youn, victoria kim, McKenna Oxenden And Jin Yu Young contributed report.