The military is launching disaster and humanitarian relief efforts on Guam after Typhoon Mawar ravaged the island earlier this week, causing massive damage, power outages and water shortages.
The strongest typhoon to hit the territory of roughly 150,000 people since 2002, Mawar briefly made landfall around 9 p.m. Wednesday as a Category 4 storm at Andersen Air Force Base on the northern tip of the island, weather service officials said.
Rivers spilled over their banks in the wake of the storn, which ripped roofs off homes, flipped vehicles and shredded trees.
Andersen officials said Friday that airmen had conducted an initial damage assessment to restore the base to mission-ready status and are currently working on bringing back power and water to the base, while other military units are preparing to step in to assist.
A top priority is clearing the airfield from debris so that outside agencies can provide assistance and supplies as part of recovery efforts, according to Brig. Gen. Paul Fast, 36th Wing commander.
“Thankfully, no member of Team Andersen was seriously injured,” Fast said in an Air Force statement. “Currently, our top priority is sustaining life and ensuring the well-being of our members, but we are also prioritizing opening our airfield to bring in aid for the island.”
The Air Force said it’s in the process of restoring operations to the base exchange, commissary, fuel station and medical services.
The Air Force also recommended against visiting beaches “due to high levels of bacteria that may result in minor and more serious illnesses when being exposed to contaminated water, such as sore throats, meningitis, encephalitis and severe gastroenteritis.”
Other military units are also expected to jump in and assist with recovery efforts.
The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit are poised for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to tap them to provide humanitarian and disaster relief in Guam, a defense official told Military Times.
The Makin Island ARG includes the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, and amphibious transport docks Anchorage and John P. Murtha.
The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and the 3rd Marine Logistics Group, both based in Okinawa, Japan, are also standing by waiting for tasking, the defense official said.
These efforts would fall under the Defense Support of Civil Authorities construct, which permits the military to assist the U.S. and its territories during disasters.
It’s unclear when exactly Indo-Pacific Command will formally task these Marine Corps assets with ther assistance efforts, although the defense official said it could happen as early as Friday. INDOPACOM did not respond to a request for comment from Military Times by deadline.
The central and northern parts of Guam received more than 2 feet of rain as the eyewall of Mawar passed. The island’s international airport flooded and the swirling typhoon churned up a storm surge and waves that crashed through coastal reefs and flooded homes.
“We are waking up to a rather disturbing scene out there across Guam,” said Landon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, in a briefing streamed online. “We’re looking out our door and what used to be a jungle looks like toothpicks — it looks like a scene from the movie ‘Twister,’ with trees just thrashed apart.”
“Most of Guam is dealing with a major mess that’s going to take weeks to clean up,” he added.
The storm is expected to move northwest for days over a large, empty expanse of ocean and enter the Philippine region late Friday or early Saturday. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Facebook that officials are preparing, and that the storm could bring heavy rainfall and flooding.
The storm could threaten Taiwan next week. Mawar regained its status as a super typhoon on Thursday, with winds reaching 150 mph. By early Friday, they had strengthened to 175 mph, according to the weather service.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.