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 km/h) 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 km/h), 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.
By early Thursday, Mawar was centered 75 miles (121 km) northwest of the island, moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 km/h).
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 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.