Guam residents woke up Thursday to survey the damage after a long night of whipping winds and lightning storms from Mawar, a typhoon that downed coconut and mango trees and knocked out power across much of the U.S. Pacific territory as its strength peaked late Wednesday night.
Residents lined up outside the shops that were open to buy food and supplies. Many businesses lacked power or internet and were only accepting cash.
Mawar was upgraded to a super typhoon, meaning that its maximum sustained winds were at least 150 miles per hour as it moved over open water.
The storm was the strongest to hammer Guam in years and was expected to continue to generate tropical storm-force winds before weakening on Thursday, the Weather Service forecaster warned. The storm had moved 105 miles northwest of Guam as of 11 a.m. local time, but typhoon warnings were still active, the forecaster said.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries. But the storm was so strong that it broke wind sensors and radar equipment that send meteorological data to the local Weather Service office — and brought all but two coconut trees outside the building crashing down, including what a forecaster said was “our prized mango tree” on the property.
As it passed over Guam, the storm packed Category 4-level winds of about 140 miles per hour at “just prior to midnight” local time on Wednesday, according to a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Guam, which issued updates via livestream through the early morning and after sunrise on Thursday.
“As sunlight is starting to peek, we are waking up to a rather disturbing scene out there across Guam,” said one of the meteorologists during an update at 8 a.m. Thursday from the Service’s office in Guam. “We are 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.”
The Weather Service had previously said it had been a long night of thrashing for the island, with blustery conditions starting on Wednesday afternoon. More than a foot of rain fell across Guam, and that amount approached two feet in some areas, forecasters said.
The good news, meteorologists said, was that conditions were beginning to subside after the storm exited the Mariana archipelago, of which Guam is the southernmost and largest territory.
Still, the Service cautioned that it was keeping its typhoon warnings active for Guam and Rota, the nearest island, because they could experience tropical-force winds through the morning. The Service said a significant portion of Guam lacked phone service and its office would close and move forecast operations to Honolulu so staff could return to their homes.
During a livestream directed at island residents on Wednesday night, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam urged people to stay home “for your safety and for your protection” until conditions were declared safe. Howling winds and banging sounds could be heard in the background as she spoke into the camera.
“What we are feeling right now is the eye going over the Rota Channel and the hardest of the winds of this typhoon is what we are experiencing, more so on the north,” she said, adding “I will be making an assessment of the devastation of our island as soon as it’s safe for me to go outside.”
Government personnel were still assessing damage.
A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Twitter that the agency had activated its coordination center to support Guam and the Mariana Islands.
The super typhoon was regaining strength and, according to forecast models, could head west toward the Philippines and Taiwan.
The Guam Power Authority said that the island’s energy grid was providing power to only about 1,000 of its roughly 52,000 customers on Wednesday afternoon, and that it was too dangerous for repair crews to venture outside. It had not updated those figures as of Thursday morning in Guam.
The 150,000 or so people who live on Guam, an island nearly the size of Chicago that sits about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, are used to tropical cyclones. The last big one, Super Typhoon Pongsona, came ashore in 2002 with the force of a Category 4 hurricane and caused more than $700 million in damage.
Stronger building codes and other advances have minimized damage and deaths from major storms on Guam in recent years. In most cases, “We just barbecue, chill, adapt” when a tropical cyclone blows through, said Wayne Chargualaf, 45, who works at the local government’s housing authority.
But because it has been so long since Pongsona, “We have an entire generation that has never experienced this,” he added. “So a little bit of doubt started to creep into my mind. Are we really ready for this?”
The storm was also affecting the U.S. military, which has a number of major facilities on the island. All military aircraft either left the island before the storm or were placed in protective hangars, Lt. Cmdr. Katie Koenig of the U.S. Navy said in a statement on Wednesday. All military ships left as well, except for a vessel that stayed in port with an engine problem, she said.
Tropical cyclones are called typhoons or hurricanes depending on where they originate. Typhoons, which tend to form from May to October, are tropical cyclones that develop in the northwestern Pacific and affect Asia. Studies say that climate change has increased the intensity of such storms, and the potential for destruction, because a warmer ocean provides more of the energy that fuels them.
Mawar, a Malaysian name that means “rose,” is the second named storm in the Western Pacific this season. The first, Tropical Storm Sanvu, weakened in less than two days.
John Yoon, Victoria Kim, McKenna Oxenden and Jin Yu Young contributed reporting.