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'Time is moving so slowly': Two people describe the power of Typhoon Mawar in Guam

Typhoon Mawar brought 140mph winds and storm surges.
AP
Typhoon Mawar brought 140mph winds and storm surges.

Holed up in her hotel room, Lauren Swaddell could hear the wind howl as Typhoon Mawar approached Guam.

"The storm is going to hit in approximately two hours," she said in a voice memo to NPR, recorded on Wednesday afternoon local time.

"I'm looking out of my window and I just see massive waves in what's normally a super calm bay. Trees are losing their branches. The coconut trees are flying everywhere."

"It is so strange to me that it's only 2pm right now and it feels like it's been an entire day ... Time is moving so slowly with this storm."

At one point, Swaddell says she could feel the walls of the hotel shaking.

Swaddell, 33, grew up in Guam and now works in Washington, D.C. She is visiting home for a work trip, just in time for the category 4 storm to pass over the island.

It brought 140mph winds and forecasts of a 25-foot storm surge, knocking out power throughout the island. The typhoon is the strongest to hit the U.S. island territory in decades.

"This is my fourth major typhoon ever on Guam," Swaddell said.

Typhoon Pongsona was the last major storm to hit the island – a category 4 storm that battered Guam in December 2002. Swaddell said experiencing Mawar was different for her.

"I was in middle school [in 2002], and I was still a kid. So I didn't know the level of responsibility and fear that an adult would have preparing for a typhoon, because my mom took care of all of that ... My mom kept me safe," she said.

This time, it was Swaddell helping out: "I went to my mom's house, helped her board up the home."

Guam is still under flash flood warnings, so a full assessment of the damage will take more time. But Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero told Morning Edition that she knows of at least one rescue mission in which eight people were taken to a shelter.

"There's a lot of anxiety not knowing the outcome of what will happen to the island around us," said Amanda Shelton, a Democratic senator in the Guam legislature.

Shelton braced for the storm while staying in the northern part of the island. In voice memos to NPR, she said she was thankful that President Joe Biden signed off on the island's state of emergency request so quickly – the island has both local and federal emergency responders ready.

"We do have folks here on the ground ready to respond as soon as they are needed, as soon as it is safe for us to go out after the storm passes," Shelton said.

She said that despite the concerns the storm brings, she was heartened by the community response.

"I think that's one positive thing to look at throughout the next several hours," she said, before the storm hit. "We're together, and we're able to pray together and wait out the storm together and help in any way that we can."

While waiting out the storm, the hotel Swaddell was staying at moved guests to a ballroom farther from any windows. As the wind thrashed the outside of the building, guests inside shared a meal.

"There's just a bunch of folks who are sharing drinks, playing games, and meeting each other for the first time and sharing stories," she said.

"There's the stress of it, but also there's this sense that we're all in this together. And there's nothing you can really do besides ride it out."

The storm was forecast to move away from the island as of Wednesday evening local time, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

"Mawar is forecast to intensify slowly over the next few days, possibly becoming a Super Typhoon over the Philippine Sea well west of the Marianas," the NWS said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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