Typhoon Mawar flips cars, cuts power on Guam as scope of damage emerges in US Pacific territory

May 23, 2023, 11:59 AM | Updated: May 24, 2023, 3:46 pm

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) — Powerful Typhoon Mawar smashed the U.S. territory of Guam and continued lashing the Pacific island with high winds and heavy rain Thursday, knocking down trees, walls and power lines and creating a powerful storm surge that threatened to wash out low-lying areas.

The typhoon, the strongest to hit the territory of roughly 150,000 people since 2002, briefly made landfall Wednesday night as a Category 4 storm at Andersen Air Force Base on the northern tip of the island, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Doll.

The storm strengthened to 150 mph (241 kph) winds the following morning, regaining its status as a super typhoon, according to the weather service. Mawar was forecast to intensify further.

As it churned slowly over the island, the typhoon flipped cars and ripped branches from trees. At what felt like its peak intensity Wednesday night, the winds screeched and howled like jets flying overhead and rainwater rushed into some homes.

Videos posted on social media showed fallen trees, an overturned pickup truck, solar panels flying through the air, parts of a hotel’s exterior wall crumbling to the ground and exposing rebar, and storm surge and waves crashing through coastal reefs.

The early scope of the damage was difficult to ascertain, with power and internet failures making communication with the far-flung island difficult. The governor and lieutenant governor were making their way after daylight arrived to assess the damage, weather service meteorologist Landon Aydlett.

“It looks like toothpicks,” Aydlett said. “It looks like a scene from the move ‘Twister,’ with things just thrashed apart. Lots of Guam is dealing with a major mess that’s going to take weeks to clean up.”

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, Asprer said.

“We told them we’ll have to wait until the storm clears up a bit,” he said.

Ray Leon Guerrero, an assistant in the mayor’s office in Barrigada, a village of about 9,000 people in central Guam, stayed at the office overnight fielding calls from residents and heard objects slamming into the roof and outside walls constantly.

“Oh man. It was pretty noisy,” he said.

The slow-moving storm continued to batter the island early Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph (225 kph), and it was expected to intensify through Friday, the weather service said.

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.

The weather service said the storm made landfall at around 9 p.m. Wednesday in Guam, which 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.

“It was on land for about 30 to 35 minutes before it moved back offshore,” Doll said by phone from the weather service’s office in Tiyan, Guam.

Peak winds at the office reached 105 mph (169 kph), but the office later lost its wind sensors, Aydlett said. The building vibrated with a “constant, low rumbling,” and its doors and windows shook, he said.

By early Thursday, Mawar was centered 75 miles (121 kilometers) northwest of the island and 85 miles (137 kilometers) west of Rota, Guam’s neighbor to the north, moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph).

Power was knocked out for the entire island of Rota, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. said late Wednesday. Rota has about 2,500 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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.

Tinian and Saipan, in the Northern Marianas, were under tropical storm warnings. Some people in those areas have been living in temporary shelters or tents since Category 5 Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018.

Mawar, a Malaysian word that means “rose,” might threaten Taiwan next week.

Many communities on the 212-square-mile (549-square-kilometer) island had lost power by Wednesday afternoon, and some to the south had lost water service. A flash flood warning was issued for the entire island as forecasters predicted as much as 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain in addition to a life-threatening storm surge of 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 2 meters).

Ahead of the storm, Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero ordered those living in coastal, low-lying and flood-prone areas to evacuate to higher ground. The highest point on the island is Mount Lamlam in the southwest at 1,334 feet (406 meters). But much of the beachfront tourist district of Tamuning, where many resorts are located, is close to sea level.

Leon Guerrero said an emergency declaration approved by President Joe Biden will support the mobilization of resources into Guam, which is “especially crucial given our distance from the continental U.S.”

Guam is a crucial hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific, and the Department of Defense controls about a third of the island. Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, Joint Region Marianas commander, authorized the evacuation of defense personnel, dependents and employees from areas that were expected to be affected.

The military said it moved its ships out to sea as a standard precaution. It also sent aircraft off the island or placed them in protective hangars.

About 6,800 U.S. service members are assigned to Guam, according to the Pentagon.

___

Brumfield reported from Washington. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, and Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed.

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Typhoon Mawar flips cars, cuts power on Guam as scope of damage emerges in US Pacific territory