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Guam homes flooded, power cut by one of the worst typhoons in decades

A flash flood warning was issued for all of Guam on May 24, as Typhoon Mawar neared the island. (Video: The Washington Post)
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A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero as Guerrero on subsequent references. Her last name is Leon Guerrero. A previous version of this correction also incorrectly used a male pronoun when referring to Leon Guerrero. The article has been corrected.

John Timothy Concepcion barely slept as Typhoon Mawar tore through Guam.

The storm’s torrential downpour seeped — then poured — into his home in Tamuning. The 33-year-old spent the night using buckets, old clothes, a mop and a broom to protect his belongings. Still, by Thursday morning, his floors were covered by five inches of water. There were holes in his roof. And the power was out.

Residents across Guam faced flooding, torn roofs, downed trees and power outages after the Category 4 storm battered the Pacific U.S. territory from Wednesday into Thursday. The local government’s islandwide damage assessments remain underway, but by sunrise Thursday, Mawar was considered one of the worst storms to slam the island in decades, officials said.

Mawar focused its fury over the northern half of the island. The eyewall — a ring of intense storms around the typhoon’s calm center — carried “destructive winds” of up to 140 mph, scraping by the island’s northern shores as it crossed the Rota Channel, according to the National Weather Service on Guam.

“We are waking up to a rather disturbing scene across Guam. What used to be jungle, looks like toothpicks. It looks like a scene from the movie ‘Twister,’ with trees just thrashed apart,” warning coordination meteorologist Landon Aydlett said. “Most of Guam is dealing with a major mess that’s going to take weeks to clean up.”

Although Mawar was about 75 miles northwest of Guam by Thursday morning, and steadily moving away, a typhoon warning remained in effect on the island. Tropical-storm-force conditions still threatened residents, Aydlett said. Mawar intensified after passing Guam, returning to its “super typhoon” status that it lost as it neared the island Wednesday, packing winds of up to 150 mph.

The majority of Guam is without power. A flood watch remained in effect, and residents should expect continued showers and gusty winds, which may ease by Thursday afternoon. Most of the island saw a foot of rain, with some areas pummeled by nearly 2 feet of rain. “That is the most rainfall we’ve had in a 24-hour period in quite some time,” Aydlett said.

Videos and photos that residents shared with The Washington Post showed impassable roads throughout the island. Floodwater obscured streets throughout the capital, Hagatna. All but 1,000 of the Guam Power Authority’s 52,000 customers had lost power by Wednesday afternoon, the agency said in a statement.

In the central village of Sinajana, the door to 30-year-old Brianna Lujan and 25-year-old Branden Muna’s home almost flew off. They resorted to drilling the door shut to stay safe: Six wooden panels stapled the door to its frame. Floodwater still found its way in.

“All the crevices from our front door — the water was like a waterfall,” Lujan said.

Earlier forecasts warned that Mawar would be even stronger, potentially growing to a top-tier Category 5 storm.

Despite ideal conditions for the storm to remain intense, a reorganization of the storm’s eyewall kept it from reaching its full potential as it approached Guam, resulting in somewhat lower winds than feared.

The storm also shifted slightly north in passing Guam; that wobble kept the center of the eye just offshore. Initially, the southern villages of Inalahan, Ipan, Talofofo, Malesso, Hagat and Humatak were under particular threat from a severe ocean storm surge in addition to destructive winds. Weather officials later adjusted their forecasts, saying a change in the wind direction meant the likely path of the storm would bring increasing water levels and surf along the western and northern sides of Guam.

However, the wobble also ensured that the storm’s powerful southern eyewall plowed over the island for an extended period, battering it with heavy rain and damaging winds.

“I am so glad we are safe. We have weathered the storm, the worst has gone by,” Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero (D) said in a brief video statement Thursday morning. “But we are going to continue to experience tropical storm winds up to about 40-50 mph,” she added, urging residents to stay home and off the roads.

On Tuesday, Leon Guerrero ordered residents in low-lying coastal and flood-prone areas to evacuate to higher ground. Officials also encouraged people living in houses made of flimsier materials, including wood and tin, to relocate to emergency shelters. Shelters remained open on Thursday to house residents whose homes were vulnerable to the intense storm.

Guam braces for floods, landslides and high winds from Typhoon Mawar

President Biden approved an emergency declaration that orders federal authorities to support the local response to the typhoon. Ahead of the storm, some U.S. Coast Guard ships sailed away from the territory — a hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific — as a precaution, while other vessels were hauled out of the water or tied down.

Guam braces for floods, landslides and high winds from Typhoon Mawar

For Dededo resident Tommy Augero, 40, Mawar was “by far” the worst storm he’s experienced. His home hasn’t had power or water for about a day, he said. His home flooded, too.

“It was a very terrifying experience. The winds were extremely powerful. We could hear debris pounding against the walls and windows. Car alarms were going off. Windows felt as if they were going to blow out,” Augero said. “We were all terrified. If felt as if it was never going to end. I’ve been through a few typhoons growing up, but this was by far the worst I’ve ever experienced.”

Guam has a long record of tropical storms. Typhoon Karen, a Category 5 storm in 1962, killed 11 people and left thousands homeless. Typhoon Omar slammed into the island in 1992, injuring dozens of people, destroying houses and cutting power all over the island. Typhoon Pongsona, a Category 4 storm, struck in 2002.

According to meteorologist Jonathan Erdman, Mawar became the 15th typhoon of at least Category 4 strength to pass within 70 miles of Guam since World War II.

By midmorning Thursday, Concepcion felt relieved, though. The worst had passed.

“We can repair as we go,” he said. “I’m frustrated about it, for sure, but as long as no one’s hurt, we can move forward.”