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Guam is still working to restore power to thousands of people two weeks after typhoon


It's been two weeks since a powerful typhoon hit Guam in the western Pacific. Thousands of residents still do not have water or electricity on the U.S. territory. Typhoon Mawar is the strongest storm to hit the island in two decades, and the recovery effort is well underway. Reporter Ashley Westerman checked in.


ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: At Guam Community College, a line wraps around Building E where the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up its first recovery assistance center.


WESTERMAN: Perciejun St. Maria is here hoping to get help from FEMA. He and his family rode out the storm in a laundry storage room.

PERCIEJUN ST MARIA: Our apartment - the roof was blown off during the typhoon. All clothes, all appliances are totally ruined, and we're homeless.

WESTERMAN: St. Maria is one of the some-10,000 Guamanians who have registered with FEMA. He still doesn't have water and electricity. A little further down the line, Merleen Raymond says her house was also inundated with water.

MERLEEN RAYMOND: Half of the roof is gone, even the sliding door falling outside. So everything is all wet.

WESTERMAN: Raymond lived through the last big storm to hit Guam - Typhoon Pongsona in 2002 - but...

RAYMOND: It's not like this one. It's really strong. It's breaking everything.

WESTERMAN: Luckily, no one died in this typhoon, which had a - maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, but the island is a wreck. The Category 4 storm stripped leaves off trees, debris is still washing up on the beaches, and the government says the commercial sector suffered $112 million in damage. Guam Power Authority says it's working to restore power across the 212-square-mile island. Krystal Paco-St. Agustin (ph), spokeswoman for the governor of Guam, says most of the 90 water wells are back up and running.

KRYSTAL PACO-SAN AGUSTIN: A lot of them are connected to the power. They need power restored. They're all connected.

WESTERMAN: Paco-St. Agustin says it took three months to fully recover from Typhoon Pongsona, but this time the government expects to be up to 95% recovered in one month. So why the confidence that recovery can happen so quickly? For one, Paco-St. Agustin says many changes have been made. For example, structures such as buildings and telephone poles are now required to be made out of concrete.

PACO-SAN AGUSTIN: There weren't as many downed power lines, power poles because now they're concrete. Also, what's really helping to support a speedy recovery and resilience effort is that we have our federal family here on island. They were here pre-storm landfall.


WESTERMAN: Days before the storm, Guam's governor asked President Biden for a pre-landfall emergency declaration, which got aid moving well ahead of time. And indeed, the hum of recovery could be heard across the island. At the Army Corps of Engineers' staging area, a huge generator bound for a firehouse is strapped down on a flatbed truck.


ANDREW JAMES: We've got generators both from Guam, Hawaii, Tracy, Calif.

WESTERMAN: Major Andrew James says despite Guam being 7,000 miles from the U.S. mainland, they are about where they should be to meet recovery demand.

JAMES: It could always be faster, but there's only, you know, so many large aircraft. And so we understand, you know, it's coming in as fast as it can.

WESTERMAN: At Micronesian Divers Association on Route 1, Derwin Rolmar says his home up north, the hardest-hit part of Guam, still doesn't have electricity and very low water pressure. But Rolmar isn't upset about it.

DERWIN ROLMAR: From the islands, we're not just humble, but - negative is not going to solve anything.

WESTERMAN: Other Guamanians that NPR spoke with for this story had a similar sentiment. Rolmar says when you live on an island, you know you're going to have to wait for things - a patience that allows you to weather any storm.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman in Hagatna, Guam.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARSHA AMBROSIUS SONG, "FAR AWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman
Ashley Westerman is a former producer who occasionally directed the show. She joined the staff in June 2015 and produced a variety of stories, including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. During her time at NPR, Ashley also produced for All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. She also occasionally reported on both domestic and international news.