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Many in Guam lack power and water a week after Typhoon Mawar

The typhoon brought widespread flooding and 140-mph winds, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane, when it struck the island of 150,000 people in the Pacific Ocean
Last Updated : 03 June 2023, 03:46 IST

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Thousands of people across the island of Guam remained without power, water and cellphone service Friday, more than a week after the US territory was pummeled by the strongest typhoon in at least two decades, which flooded homes, downed coconut and mango trees, and disrupted basic services.

“Losing water has been the hardest part,” said Melinda Sanchez, 50, whose family lives in central Guam. Still, she said, island residents were familiar with storm-related disruptions. “We just go back to what we’ve learned to do during these times. We get through it.”

The typhoon, Mawar, brought widespread flooding and 140-mph winds, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane, when it struck the island of 150,000 people in the Pacific Ocean on May 24, knocking out power across much of the territory. Now a tropical storm, Mawar prompted the evacuation of 1.2 million people as it approached Japan on Friday.

No deaths were reported on Guam, which is home to bases for the US Navy and Air Force, but officials said the restoration of basic services to some parts of the island could take several weeks.

The Guam Power Authority said in an update Friday that electricity had been restored to just over 40 per cent of customers, while the Guam Waterworks Authority reported that about half of the wells that supply most of the island’s water were operational. About half of the island’s cellphone towers were working by Thursday, officials said.

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for the territory after Mawar, allowing residents to apply for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hundreds of federal aid workers are on the island to support recovery efforts, the agency said, with help from the military, including the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The territory’s governor, Lou Leon Guerrero, said on Facebook that the disruption to the island’s communications systems had made recovery efforts more challenging but that in the week since the storm, “we have already made significant improvements to damaged infrastructure and restored critical public services.”

Still, in an emergency session of the territory’s Legislature on Tuesday, Jesse Alig, mayor of the village of Piti and the president of the Mayors’ Council of Guam, criticized the response of the island’s government and utilities, calling it slow and inadequate.

“Shame on us for making our people suffer,” the mayor said, adding, “Mawar was nothing compared to what we’re going through right now.”

Nearly the size of Chicago and about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines, Guam is used to typhoons (as tropical cyclones are called in the Pacific; in the Atlantic, they are hurricanes). The last major storm, Typhoon Pongsona, came ashore in 2002 at Category 4 strength and caused more than $700 million in damage.

In an early assessment, after Mawar hit last week, government officials estimated that the island’s commercial sector had lost about $112 million, mostly because of building damage. A broader assessment of the storm’s impact awaited the restoration of communications and other services.

The island’s major medical centre, Guam Memorial Hospital, was forced to rely on generators in the storm’s immediate aftermath but has since had power restored, said Cindy Hanson, the hospital’s spokesperson. But the facility is still waiting to regain full access to the water system, she said.

Although no deaths had been reported, Hanson said the number of people receiving medical care at the hospital rose slightly over the past week. But that could be attributed in part to the number of pregnant women who had been advised to wait out the storm at the facility, which is the island’s only public hospital.

Twenty-two babies were born there during the typhoon, Hanson said.

In the Agana Heights neighbourhood of central Guam, Jessica Kim, 37, has been sorting through waterlogged wreckage since the wind ripped off the roof of her garage and floodwaters invaded her family’s home last week.

Kim still had no power as of Friday, she said. And she could see that the trash was still sitting on the sidewalk — including the food that she had removed from her warming fridge.

“We’ve all been hot, moody and short-tempered with each other,” Kim said, adding, “But we’re finding ways to have fun and entertain ourselves.”

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Published 03 June 2023, 03:46 IST

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