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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Typhoon's damage includes livelihood of residents

 •  How to help Guam recover
Send checks or money orders made out to the American Red Cross to the Hawai'i state chapter, 4155 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu, HI 96816. The American Red Cross requests that checks be designated to go to the National Disaster Relief Fund.
 •  Hawai'i on snake watch after Guam typhoon
 •  More stories, photos from Pacific Daily News

By Scott Radway
Pacific Daily News

Eleanor San Nicolas cries yesterday after her house was destroyed by Typhoon Pongsona.

Photos by Masako Watanabe • Pacific Daily News

DEDEDO, Guam — Standing in the pile of broken tin and wood that is now her home, Pamela Sahagun impishly held up an unwrapped, soggy Christmas present: a large flashlight for her husband.

"We opened them," said Sahagun, shrugging her shoulders.

There was nothing else to do, she said. Christmas was almost an impossible thought when staring at what was once her home, destroyed by Typhoon Pongsona. So she let her son open his toys, which he then stowed in the tent where they now live.

"It's very hard. You know, with the economy so bad, we were just getting back on our feet," Sahagun said. Then, pointing to her house: "Look at it — it's all gone."

Jamie Cruz, 11, looked at ruined Christmas presents at her family's Dededo, Guam, home yesterday. Her family has been living in tents since a typhoon hit Guam on Sunday.

All over Guam, people are suffering after Pongsona, which hit the island on Sunday with sustained winds of 150 mph. No one has power. Water pressure is low, or out. The island's fuel supply facility has been on fire since the typhoon struck, aggravating a gasoline shortage and contaminating groundwater supplies with soot. The public libraries and Guam's only civilian hospital took major hits. Thousands lost their homes.

When Typhoon Chata'an hit the island in July, some homes were destroyed, but most were badly damaged. Pongsona ripped almost everything made of tin and wood from its foundations. President Bush has declared Guam a federal disaster area.

As of yesterday, there were nearly 3,500 people living at austere government shelters set up at public schools. Five of the 17 shelters have water. None has power. Residents are stocking up on supplies to make sure they make it through what will undoubtedly be a long recovery phase. Besides hoarding gasoline, some residents were searching for water, food and one of the most precious commodities after almost all natural disasters on Guam — ice.

A pig scavenges for food in Asan in the wake of the typhoon's destruction.

"You have to get the basics like water, and if you can get it, definitely ice," said Scott Stern, 22, a resident of Guam.

Police patrolled the littered streets as best they could, watching for looters and especially generator thieves. The patrol cars themselves showed signs of Pongsona's effect.

"You will see quite a few patrol cars running around with dents, pieces of bumper missing, mirrors missing," said Guam Police Department spokesman Officer A.J. Balajadia.

Residents said they were not prepared for such a powerful storm, let alone one that would hit the island directly. Meteorologists were predicting the storm would bypass Guam and maybe hit Saipan.

NoahJohn Perez, 1, sleeps in a classroom at Astumbo Elementary School emergency shelter as his father, John Perez, talks on the phone.

"It was crazy. No one was expecting this. The neighbor's house was lifted like a piece of paper and just left," said resident Norma Decibel. "It will take six months to a year to try and get everything rebuilt, especially with everyone working."

People had already begun to remove the wreckage that was their homes, salvaging what little was left and trying to pull their lives together. Decibel's family had built nine houses on a flat parcel. Eight of those houses were leveled by Pongsona. Waterlogged possessions, down to teddy bears, were mingled with sheets of tin and broken wood planks.

Eleanor San Nicolas, who lived in one of the nine houses, thought she was finished rebuilding. Chata'an damaged her house, but with federal money and plenty of sweat, she and her family — her husband and six children — built an even nicer house.

"It was very nice. So nice," said San Nicolas, a stout, outspoken woman. Then she began to cry. "This was my kids' Christmas present. We put the last tin up before the typhoon."

Philip Flores, BankPacific president and chief executive officer, estimated that the damage left by Pongsona could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Relief efforts for Guam were well under way in Hawai'i yesterday.

Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, whose three properties on Guam sustained damage, is targeting its relief efforts at its guests and employees. The company sent a team of engineers to Guam yesterday to assess the damage.

About 1,000 guests and more than 100 employees and their families are being housed by Outrigger in rooms cleared as safe to occupy.

Continental Airlines, one of the major airlines in Guam, is focusing its relief efforts on getting people into or out of Guam. No planes were lost or damaged from the typhoon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in the process of opening its disaster relief centers on Guam. More than 200 people have been dispatched by FEMA to aid in the relief effort, joining the approximately 50 FEMA personnel who have been on Guam since the last typhoon hit in July.

Advertiser staff writer Catherine E. Toth contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Dededo.