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Federal contractor says Guam is 'off to a great start'

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Todd Semonite

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Nearly a month after the destructive typhoon Mawar made landfall on Guam, a large part of the island’s population remains without power, water, phone service and home internet, causing lingering frustrations among residents.

Despite the seemingly slow recovery, Guam has actually gotten back on its feet much faster than anticipated, according to Todd Semonite, president of WSP, a federal contractor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. WSP has years of experience rebuilding communities around the world after storms.

“Mother nature is very powerful,” Semonite said, noting that the massive destruction was "the result of a devastating storm" rather than a lack of adequate preparation

“Guam is already off to a great start. There are others that took a while to get back up; it’s more of a marathon than a sprint,” he said. “I have seen places where it took six to seven weeks to get their power back.”

When he was the U.S. Army chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Semonite responded in Puerto Rico when Category 5 Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory in 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people. It flattened neighborhoods, disabled the island's power grid and cost $90 billion in damage.

Semonite said Guam fared better than Puerto Rico.

Typhoon Mawar was the worst storm to hit Guam in two decades, leaving the island in shambles, cutting off power and communications and displacing hundreds of residents.

According to the Guam Power Authority’s June 22 update, power has been restored to 80.9 percent of its customers throughout the island. It is preparing to begin phase IV of post-storm restoration in two weeks.

“It’s obviously sporadic, but a lot depends on location and geography,” Semonite said.

In a statement today, IT&E said it is nearing full restoration of services, with 96 percent of sites operational. Some sites remain on generator power or require optimization.

"Some challenges persist, but we are confident that we will achieve full restoration in the coming days as the power situation improves and we complete network optimization activities,' said Jim Oehlerking, president of IT&E.

"As efforts continue to stabilize and restore power to households, service interruptions may still occur in areas affected by rolling outages. Subscribers are encouraged to continue to report any service issues," ITE said.

The Guam Waterworks Authority said it has increased the number of operating wells from 96 to 101 wells.

"Our estimated production rate is 35 million gallons a day of water for our northern and central systems. That’s 103 percent of pre-typhoon production levels from our deep wells," GWA general manager Miguel Bordallo said in his podcast Wednesday.

"Additionally, the adjustments GWA has made to distribution system operations, coupled with stable operation of wells in the north, have been effective in building reservoir levels in Astumbo, Mangilao and Chaot over the last two days," he added.

As of Wednesday, Bordallo said service levels in problematic areas have improved. "I believe we are very close to complete restoration. Reservoir levels across our distribution system continue to show improvement," he added.

While projecting utilities to be restored in 30 days, Semonite noted that “there will always be the last mile,” particularly those living in low-lying areas, mountainsides and the remote end of the line that are harder to access.

In the early days after Mawar hit Guam, WSP assisted in providing temporary power to the island by shipping 160 generators that were distributed to priority facilities including hospitals, schools that served as storm shelters and other essential establishments.


Besides the magnitude of the disaster and the quality of government planning, Semonite named three other essential factors that typically contribute to the speed of recovery: manpower, materials and weather.

“First, you have to have enough qualified people to do the repair and we have found enough contractors and subcontractors. So we are OK on the people factor,” he said.

As for the materials, Semonite said the government of Guam “was able to stockpile on a lot of things.”

But the weather is another story. “We have to have days of good weather to be able to continue the work,” Semonite said.

For the most part, Semonite said quick recovery depends on the infrastructure’s resiliency.

He noted that after the 2002 supertyphoon Pongosona, Guam began building concrete power poles.

“There are other island communities where there are still wooden poles,” he said. “Over the last several storms, Guam has continued to invest in making its infrastructure more resilient. A lot had been done.”

A stronger building code, he added, has made Guam more typhoon-proof.

“Some damaged houses were older houses that were built without the code,” he said.

But water wells and cell towers, Semonite said, might need more work toward achieving resiliency.

In general, Semonite said, resiliency was evident among Guam residents.

“I am amazed at how dedicated the local residents are to get their houses back up and running,” he said. “They are moving stuff, clearing debris, knowing that no one else will do these things for them. It was amazing. This goes back to the ethics of going back to normal. I was very impressed with the residents. It is important not to wait for somebody else to do it for them.”

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