By Danielle DeSimone
On Wednesday, May 24, 2023, Super Typhoon Mawar – the equivalent of a high-end category 4 hurricane – made landfall on the U.S. Territory of Guam. As the local community begins to assess the damage caused by Super Typhoon Mawar, the National Guard, Coast Guard, Navy and the Air Force have sprung into action to help in the storm’s aftermath, and the USO is right there alongside those called to duty.
The National Guard, the Coast Guard, the Air Force and the Navy Respond to Super Typhoon Mawar
Super Typhoon Mawar made landfall on the island of Guam on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. Even before it landed, the storm was being described as a “triple threat” of damaging winds, torrential rain and storm surges. Once Typhoon Mawar reached land, the storm wreaked havoc on the 212 square mile island, which is home to approximately 20,000 service members and military family members and several USO staff members.
The typhoon had sustained winds of over 150 mph and gusts over 170 mph, flipping over cars and ripping through power lines, trees and buildings. The storm surge hit much of the island’s low-lying coastal areas, and 2 feet of torrential rainfall led to flooding of many streets on the island.
In anticipation of the storm, the president declared an emergency and both the military and island residents prepared for the natural disaster. National Guard members from this small island community in the Pacific came forward and volunteered to serve, ready to respond, prior to Typhoon Mawar’s arrival.
Governor Lou Leon Guerrero ordered National Guard members to help evacuate residents in low-lying areas, as other residents stocked up on water, generators, food and other supplies.
Both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard sent ships out to sea to avoid damage from the storm, as is standard procedure. And as businesses and schools closed, and residents prepared their homes for the storm, the U.S. Coast Guard hauled out, trailered or secured boats in the local harbors.
After a long day and night of howling winds and rain, residents of Guam and the service members who call the island home woke up to assess the damage. Power outages were – and continue to be – widespread across the island, leaving many without air conditioning, phone connectivity or internet. Hospitals are flooded, homes damaged beyond repair and roads are blocked by flipped cars and uprooted trees.
Since the storm’s passing, the U.S. Navy has deployed the USS Nimitz strike carrier group to Guam to assist in relief efforts, which will arrive in a matter of days. The U.S. Coast Guard also deployed units from Hawaii, including dive teams and boat crews to assist in clearing waterways and facilities. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force has deployed a Disaster Recovery Response Team to assist in infrastructure recovery.
More than 400 members of the Guam National Guard are also hard at work, clearing debris from roads, directing traffic and restoring electricity to local communities
Fortunately, there are so far no casualties in the wake of the storm, although several injuries have been reported. However, Typhoon Mawar is the strongest storm to hit the island in 21 years and the destruction to the island is widespread. It will require a great deal of effort from our nation’s service members to restore local communities and ensure their safety – and that is exactly why the USO is stepping in to support.
The USO Provides Support to Service Members and Military Families in the Wake of Super Typhoon Mawar
Guam is a critical outpost of U.S. national defense in an ever-changing Indo-Pacific region, which is why the USO has had a permanent presence on the island since 1949. Through our three USO Guam Centers on the island, service members and their families stationed on Guam can turn to the USO as a home away from home, as well as for the USO’s programs and services.
And in the midst of disaster, the USO is also there, ready to step up and support our nation’s military just when they need us most. As the Navy, National Guard, Air Force and Coast Guard support the local Guam communities, the USO is there to support military members as they work in the disaster zone.
With thousands of service members working around the clock under stressful conditions, they must also navigate the challenges of the typhoon themselves. Many service members have lost their barracks or housing due to flooding; others have no access to air conditioning, while temperatures in Guam are creeping toward 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean water is limited, chilled foods have been deemed unsafe and must be disposed of, and there is nowhere to do laundry.
Although USO employees are navigating damage to their own homes on Guam, they have quickly sprung into action to help alleviate some of these stressors as best they can. One USO center has opened its doors to provide air conditioning, internet and Wi-Fi connectivity, phones to call home, as well as snacks and coffee. As the USO restores electricity to our own locations and ensures the safety of our centers, we will further expand our support of service members and military families stationed on Guam at our other centers. When even the most basic necessities aren’t available in a disaster zone, resources like these can make all the difference.
Samantha King, a military spouse who had just recently relocated to Guam with her service member, explained how much the USO’s support meant to her and her family.
“After the typhoon, we lost water and power, and I have three children under the age of three. So that’s been really difficult for us and challenging,” Samantha said.
“Thankfully, just a day or two after the storm, the USO opened up and let people come in. They had power, they had AC, they had a family room for the children - so we’ve been coming up here every single day, just to get some cool air, to let the babies cool down and play,” she continued.
“And we’re just really grateful that the USO has been open during this time for us. We just got here to the island a couple weeks ago and it’s just been a really difficult transition as-is, and even more so with the storm. So I just wanted to say thank you to the USO for being here for us during such a difficult time.”
As a nonprofit, the USO relies on donations to carry out our mission and provide crucial support to service members and military families in the wake of natural disasters – and year-round – at our more than 250 locations throughout the world. In the coming days, weeks and months, our nation’s sailors, members of the Coast Guard, airmen, Marines and soldiers will be working constantly to rebuild this crucial outpost of American defense. They will need support through these relief and rebuilding efforts. And the USO is prepared to provide that for them.
Disaster relief effort can be difficult and dangerous work, taking both a physical and emotional toll on our service members – especially those such as National Guard members, who are responding to a disaster within their own community. It is crucial in high-stress situations like these that service members feel the full support of the USO and the American people behind them, in everything from a snack, to sitting in an air conditioned room for the first time in a week, to helping them connect to loved ones to let them know they’re safe, or even just giving them a clean place to recharge and recover before the next day of work.
As long as service members are working hard in Typhoon Mawar relief efforts, the USO will be right there supporting them through their mission.
Header image by U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Akeem K. Campbell
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