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Typhoon Mawar batters Guam, and ‘what used to be a jungle looks like toothpicks’

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Andy Villagomez clears what remains of a large tree that overshadowed his front yard before falling to Typhoon Mawar, Thursday, May 25, 2023, in Mongmong-Toto-Maite, Guam.
Andy Villagomez clears what remains of a large tree that overshadowed his front yard before falling to Typhoon Mawar, Thursday, May 25, 2023, in Mongmong-Toto-Maite, Guam. (AP Photo/Grace Garces Bordallo) Photo Gallery

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) — Guam’s governor gave the all-clear Thursday after Typhoon Mawar tore through the second-largest U.S. territory the night before, ripping off roofs, shredding trees and leaving much of the remote Pacific island without power and utilities.

There were minor injuries reported but no fatalities, according to the office of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero. She declared the “all clear” Thursday evening, returning the island to its typical condition of typhoon readiness as the National Weather Service lifted a typhoon watch.

She thanked the people of Guam for keeping themselves safe and protected during the storm.

“We now continue to focus our efforts on repairing infrastructure and restoring services to residents,” Leon Guerrero said in a statement. “After speaking with department leaders and seeing the incredible rapid response to the storm I am confident we will make significant progresses towards restoration of services.”

Survey and work crews were assessing damage at military installations, which were limited to essential personnel only, according to Joint Region Marianas.

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 flooded homes.

“We are waking up to a rather disturbing scene out there across Guam. We’re looking out our door and what used to be a jungle looks like toothpicks — it looks like a scene from the movie ‘Twister,’ with trees just thrashed apart,” Landon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said in a briefing streamed online.

“Most of Guam is dealing with a major mess that’s going to take weeks to clean up,” he added.

The strongest typhoon to hit the territory of roughly 150,000 people since 2002, Mawar briefly made landfall around 9 p.m. Wednesday as a Category 4 storm at Andersen Air Force Base on the northern tip of the island, weather service officials said.

Power and internet failures made communication on the far-flung island difficult in the early going. Leon Guerrero said in a video message late Thursday morning that roads were passable, but residents should avoid driving and stay home due to ongoing strong winds.

“We have weathered the storm,” she said, adding that “the worst has gone by.”

Guam Power Authority said crews were working to restore power to critical and priority facilities such as a hospital, water wells and wastewater plants. Guam Waterworks Authority was working to restore water service and had issued a notice advising customers to boil their water.

The A.B. Won Pat International Airport Guam completed damage inspections, with recovery underway. The airport will accommodate humanitarian and cargo flights to Guam.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that more than 130 staffers were pre-staged or already deployed to support the storm response. More than 100 generators as well as emergency communications equipment and specialized personnel have been mobilized. The agency’s distribution center is fully stocked with about four times the food and water that was in place during Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018, with additional supplies ready if needed, FEMA said.

The storm is 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 are preparing, and that the storm could bring heavy rainfall and flooding.

The storm could threaten Taiwan next week. It strengthened to 165 mph (266 kph) winds Thursday and regained its status as a super typhoon, according to the weather service. Mawar, a word that means “rose” in Malay, was forecast to maintain that intensity for the next two days.

By Thursday night, Mawar was centered 195 miles (314 kilometers) northwest of Guam and 210 miles (338 kilometers) west of Rota, Guam’s neighbor to the north, moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 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 Wednesday. 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 told The Associated Press 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.”

Winds peeled back the roof of Enrique Baza’s mother’s house in Yona, allowing water to damage everything inside.

“My mom’s house didn’t escape,” he said, adding that his mother stayed with him in his concrete home during the storm.

He drove around in a pickup truck looking for supplies to repair his mother’s roof, but most stores were without power and only accepting cash. Many wooden or tin homes he passed were badly beaten or collapsed.

“It’s kind of a shock,” he said.

In Tumon, on Guam’s western shore, winds tore a granite countertop from a hotel’s outdoor bar and tossed it into the air. Guests scrambled to stack chairs to brace the doors, and windows buckled and creaked.

“It was like a freight train going on outside,” said Thomas Wooley, who recounted how wind and rain pushed through the aluminum shutters of his family’s concrete home overlooking Tumon Bay. When day broke, he found their outdoor china cabinet toppled and its contents shattered on the ground. A chainsaw-wielding relative helped clear downed branches.

“We’ve got tons of work to do,” Wooley said. “It’s going to take a few days to clean it up.”

Guam’s weather service office in Tiyan said it would shut down operations in the morning for workers to get home to families and assess damage at their homes. Counterparts in the Honolulu office took over their duties.

Guam is a crucial hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific, with about 6,800 service members assigned to the island, according to the Pentagon. Military officials evacuated personnel, dependents and employees, sent ships out to sea and moved aircraft off the island or secured them in protective hangars.

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.

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