On the gloomy morning of May 26, we woke to an apocalyptic-like life, disconnected from the rest of the world— no power, no internet, no water— after Typhoon Mawar made a swaggering landfall on Guam, packing sustained winds of over 150 mph.
Across the street, I found the old towering evergreen tree in my neighbor’s yard had fallen on the ground like a wounded dinosaur. The once resplendent hibiscus garden in my front yard was now a sight of ruins. The pre-typhoon lush forest across my back porch became denuded overnight. The old dancing bamboo trees now resembled giant toothpicks. A 15-year-old mango tree got uprooted off the ground, flattening a huge portion of the jungle.
Mawar—a Malaysian name that means “rose”—left its ferocious footmarks across the island, turning the otherwise picturesque paradise into a vision of desolation: houses with roofs blown away, flipped vehicles, broken street signs, bodies of stray dogs, collapsed sports facilities and more fallen trees. Social media was filled with photos of inundated areas.
The day before the typhoon, our phones were buzzing with worried messages from family and friends off-island. Our Barrigada Heights neighborhood Whatsapp group kept pinging, each household giving updates on their situation.
The island’s collective anxiety was building up. The agony of suspense was unbearable. Somehow, we were still hoping that the typhoon would miraculously change its direction and skip over the island. By late afternoon Wednesday, it became clearer that Mawar was determined to deliver its terror.
On the ill-fated night, we holed up in our homes, tuned in to the beastly roar of the wind slamming onto our typhoon-shuttered windows. By this time, the power had gone out. Darkness and dread were our uninvited companions.
I am no stranger to typhoons. I was born and raised in the Philippines, where natural and man-made disasters are the staple of headlines. But living on a small island—a rock in the Pacific Ocean— is a different story. When the airport shuts down, we get isolated from the rest of the world. When cargo ships stop coming, we face the possibility of food shortages.
Mawar was the worst typhoon to hit the island since Pongsona, which battered the island in 2002. I came to Guam one year after that disaster. While the horrors of Pongsona might have seemed like a myth to me, I repeatedly heard stories about the island suffering from more than two months of darkness and economic depression.
By the time I arrived on island, Guam was fully recovered, without a trace of devastation. One thing one would learn about the island is its characteristic resilience. Guamanians are survivors.
Before Pongsona, there was Omar and Paka, from which Guam took decades to recover. In the last 20 years, Guam had been narrowly spared by several typhoons, which served as our real-event disaster drills. We follow our template for typhoon preparations. As soon as COR2 is declared, we don’t waste time. We rush to the stores and fill our cupboards with canned goods and other essentials. We hit the gas pumps. We secure our houses. We did all this prior to Mawar.
But every rose has its thorns. Some things are simply beyond our control. Nothing really prepared us for what was to come in the succeeding days.
The government’s response was in disarray. Our basic utilities became a luxury. Most households still have no water and trickles from the faucet offer false hope. Power has yet to be fully restored. At night, villages with lit houses become the envy of those living in the dark zones. Internet failures have not only rendered communication difficult but made transactions impossible.
As we pick up the pieces of our shattered lives, we learn a few lessons and recognize the ordinary things that we normally take for granted.
Eventually, we will get up, dust our shoulders off and move on. Because that’s what Guamanians do.
Several years from now, this episode will be added to the catalog of Guam's tales of survival, to which we will hark back: Remember Mawar?