We arrived in Guam in October of 2002 after spending a glorious year in one of my favorite cities in the US, Coronado, CA. It is a beautiful city with beautiful weather and wonderful people. We rented in a neighborhood with million dollar homes facing a golf course and lived paycheck to paycheck to do it. At least it was only a year! Or, too bad it was only a year!
I remember stepping outside the airport in Guam for the first time and thinking, “I am in H * E * double hockey sticks!” The humidity had to have been well over 100%, and we could hardly breathe because the air was so thick. But eventually my Florida body got used to the heat and humidity, and we settled into our life on the little Pacific island. And then December 8, 2002 came along.
“HAGATNA, Guam (AP)–Typhoon Pongsona slammed into Guam on Sunday with intense rain and winds gusting to at least 117 mph, forcing thousands of residents to seek safe shelter. Six men were reported missing after a gasoline tank at Apra Harbor exploded during the storm, Civil Defense officials said. Efforts to reach the scene were hampered by storm debris. Gov. Carl Gutierrez declared a state of emergency and activated the Guam National Guard to help with disaster response and recovery efforts. The Civil Defense Command Center received reports of downed utility poles, tree limbs and flying debris. At least one home was believed destroyed, but there were no initial reports of serious injuries. By noon, about 2,271 people were staying in shelters, said Vince Leon Guerrero, Department of Education response activity coordinator. The maximum wind speed of 117 mph was clocked before the National Weather Service’s wind sensor failed, along with its radar. With no radar, the NWS had to use satellite imagery coming in every hour to locate the eye of the storm. With winds at the center of storm estimated at 150 mph, the storm gained ‘supertyphoon’ status. As of 5 p.m. (2 a.m. EST), the storm was 35 miles east-northeast of Guam, moving northwest at 12 mph, officials said. ‘We’re still in the eye wall,’ NWS forecaster Sarah Prior said. ‘We don’t know exactly how long, but maybe in the next three hours we should be out of the eye wall and the winds should begin to taper off.’ She said typhoon-force winds of 75 mph were expected until early Monday, ‘but it should be decreasing.’ Earlier forecasts predicted the 30- to 35-mile wide eye of the storm would go directly over the island. After passing Guam, the storm was expected to skirt neighboring Rota, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, forecasters said. Guam is a U.S. territory located west of the international date line, about 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii. As the storm approached, Guam Civil Defense officials urged residents to seek shelter in designated schools. Celina Quidachay and her family, who recently finished rebuilding their home destroyed July 5 by Typhoon Chataan, sought refuge at Astumbo Elementary School in Dededo. ‘It’s a lot to handle,’ Quidachay said. ‘The worst part is waiting to find out, to see what the kids and I still have.’ More than 400 people filled the school, forcing late arrivals to seek shelter elsewhere. Some residents checked into the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa, which started the day at 70 percent occupancy. Manfred Pieper, the hotel’s general manager, said he expected it to be full by mid-afternoon. Carlos Camacho of Talofofo moved into the hotel with many family members, including his wife, who is eight months pregnant. He said he chose to evacuate to the Hilton because the hotel is close to Guam Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, long lines formed at gas stations to fill tanks and cans for electrical generators. At the S&L Mart, residents stocked up on necessities. ‘They come in here for junk food,’ said Giovanna Leon Guerrero, whose family runs the store in Inarajan. ‘They get candles and batteries, too. And ice, water and beer.’ Pongsona passed north of Chuuk state in the Federated States of Micronesia on Saturday. Although there was some crop damage and minor landslides, there were no reports of serious injuries on the main island of Weno, accordking to Chuuk disaster officials. The FSM (Federated States of Micronesia) is located about 620 miles southeast of Guam.”
Guam, a US possession, is a tiny island in the west Pacific measuring 30 miles long and an average of 8 miles wide and lies 13 degrees north of the equator. The temperature varies from about 75 to 85 degrees throughout the year which was awesome for a Florida girl like me – flip flop weather everyday! Most houses are built to withstand typhoons which are like hurricanes in the States and look like concrete boxes all over the island. We lived at Andersen Air Force Base at the north end of the island because it has the only military airport (and my husband being a helicopter pilot kind of needed it). The Naval Base Guam, or Big Navy as it’s sometimes called, is located towards the southend of the island.