Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Storm-ravaged Guam assesses typhoon destruction

 •  Stories, pictures from Guam's Pacific Daily News

(Guam) Pacific Daily News

HAGATNA, Guam — Residents fearing a gasoline shortage lined up at fueling stations today to fill up their cars and power generators as they began recovering from a severe typhoon that battered the territory with winds up to 180 mph and cut off all electricity and water.

These Dededo, Guam, homes were torn apart when Typhoon Pongsona passed over the island Sunday with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. The island has been declared a federal disaster area and help is on the way from Hawai'i.

Ron Soliman • Pacific Daily News

The run on gasoline forced gas stations to impose limits. Meanwhile, a fuel tank farm operated by Mobil Oil Micronesia continues to burn, with smoke visible for miles.

Civil defense officials had not yet determined the number of people killed, injured or left homeless by Typhoon Pongsona, which hit the island on Sunday.

"This is just scary. I have never seen the ceiling tiles shake," said David Silio, stationed in the administrative office of Astumbo Elementary School in Dededo, Guam, just before he and his staff were forced to dodge airborne debris and trees and run through the height of the storm to safety.

A Hawai'i Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker yesterday was en route to Guam with 19 civil engineers, supplies and other personnel from the 15th Air Base Wing at Hickam Air Force Base.

Relief supplies including lumber, fencing, batteries and other construction materials also were being loaded on several aircraft yesterday for transport to the island, Air Force officials said.

A Mobil fuel tank farm continues to burn out of control at the commercial port at Cabras Island. The fire broke out during the typhoon.

Ron Soliman • Pacific Daily News

The US Pacific Fleet, with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, is finalizing plans to fly more than $4 million worth of supplies and services from three continents to Guam.

Navy support identified includes of six structural and three electrical specialists from Hawaii to assess damage, scheduled to leave Hawaii today.

"Supertyphoon" Pongsona left Andersen Air Force Base with waist-high water, loss of power, major damage to base structures and more than 1,000 downed trees.

"No one from Andersen was injured," said Staff Sgt. Dale Yates from the 36th Air Base Wing public affairs office.

Andersen's runway was closed during the most intense part of the storm, but has reopened for relief flights.

Navy Hospital Guam reported damage, but no patients were injured, and the hospital's emergency room remains open, officials said.

Typhoon Pongsona's 180-mph winds snapped concrete power poles, leaving them littered on a road in Barrigada. Motorists weaved around downed utility poles and power lines around the island.

Masako Watanabe • Pacific Daily News

Nearly 4,000 people were in shelters at island schools, and officials expected more to come as the storm eased.

Islandwide, vehicles weaved around fallen utility poles, trees and downed power lines. Truck windshields were shattered; somehow, the wind lifted a car enough for a sheet of tin roof to slide underneath it like a coaster under a glass.

Traffic was hindered along a few bridges because of thick mud, potholes or flooding. The pavement on bridges over the Asalonso and Pauliloc rivers in Inarajan was torn right off the road when the rivers overflowed.

"In the 15 years that I've been here, this is without any doubt the worst typhoon we have ever experienced," said Manfred Pieper, general manager of Hilton Guam Resort & Spa, where doors designed to protect glass in winds as high as 250 mph still shattered from the force of the storm.

President Bush declared Guam a disaster area after the supertyphoon raked the island Sunday, destroying its electric, water and sewer systems, which are not expected to be restored for weeks. The storm sat on the island for hours, blasting some areas with sustained 150 mph winds and gusts to 184 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

"It is beyond our ability to recover from without federal assistance," Guam Gov. Carl Gutierrez said.

Power lines lean precariously over a Guam roadway in the wake of Pongsona.

Pacific Daily News

Residents said that this storm was far different from Typhoon Chata'an, which struck the island in July with 112 mph winds. People at the shelters then were socializing, telling stories.

"Today it is, 'What do you think you will lose?' 'How much do you think you will lose?' " said Celina Quidachay, whose family had just finished rebuilding their house, destroyed by Chata'an and again by Pongsona.

Guam Memorial Hospital was in shambles, scrambling to keep basic services operating. The intensive care unit was among the departments most severely damaged.

"The wind was so strong that the rain was like a water blaster. Up here on the cliff, the hospital took a direct hit and it was like we torpedoed many times over," said hospital administrator David Shimizu. "We had to move patients from one unit to another, from one wing to another, all without elevators as ours went down."

The hotel district in Tumon Bay was devastated, with storefronts blown open, mangled cars overturned and pieces of buildings strewn everywhere. Between 8,000 and 10,000 tourists are on the island, according to the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Tokyo resident Masateru Tamura, staying at a friend's house in Tumon while on vacation, said he spent much of yesterday morning searching for food.

A boy looks over upturned cars that the typhoon piled on each other.

Pacific Daily News

"I've been through typhoons in my hometown Tokyo, but we've never experienced such a big typhoon. It's the biggest in my life," said Tamura, 33. "I'm supposed to return (this morning), but the airport is closed. So I don't know when I can return to my home country. The vacation started good, but now it is the worst vacation in my life."

As day broke, the search for supplies was on. Cars and trucks formed lines, at times stretching a mile long, to fill up at service stations that managed to reopen. Some service stations placed $10 or $20 limits on vehicles that came through.

The rationing, coupled with a fire at a fuel tank farm at the Commercial Port Authority, sent many motorists into a panic-buying mode.

"I'm afraid we will run out of gas," pickup driver Gus Centeno said.

Local Catholics entered the weekend preparing for yesterday's islandwide procession to honor the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, but wound up preparing for Pongsona instead.

A priceless statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus honored on the holy day, normally tucked safely above the altar of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica, was spared damage from airborne projectiles that littered the inside of the Cathedral-Basilica.

Contributing: (Guam) Pacific Daily News reporters Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno, Theresa Merto, Oyaol Ngirairiki, Mark-Alexander Pieper, Scott Radway and Dioneses Tamondong; The Associated Press; and Advertiser military writer William Cole.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Dededo.