Typhoon Pamela Wrecks Guam
By “Awake!” correspondent in Guam
“I’VE never seen anything quite like Pamela. . . . The ripping tin, the roar of the wind, the grinding of metal, the cracking of tree limbs all combine to make a din unlike anything you’ve ever heard. . . .
“The typhoon sounds as if nature is out to get you, to finally challenge man, head-on, in his tin and cement houses. It crashes against your walls and slams pieces of wood at you, trying to break down your house and your spirit. You feel that the typhoon is a living, breathing thing, a monster trying desperately to get at you to rip off your head and stuff it in your ear. Scary.”
That is how one person described what has become known here as “Supertyphoon Pamela.”
Before striking Guam near its center, Pamela caused crop and property damage to Truk’s outer islands. There a concrete house became a coffin for ten people seeking refuge from Pamela’s winds when a mudslide crushed the house.
On Guam, 80 percent of the buildings—including homes—were damaged, at least half of them beyond repair. All public utilities were knocked out. Whole roofs, their steel girders still intact, were hurled as far as two miles.
Practically all roads were cluttered with downed telephone and power lines. Even roads were destroyed by high winds. Several of them buckled in places, making huge holes. Hundreds of homes became nothing more than scattered tin and naked foundations. Trees and plant life were destroyed all over the island.
It all seemed so unreal—like a wild and bewildering nightmare that left Guam’s face brutally disfigured. President Ford declared this American island, with its some 110,000 citizens, a major disaster area.
Gathering strength after its birth near Truk Islands about May 13, Pamela moved northwest, smashing broadside into Guam a week later. Its sustained winds of some 140 m.p.h. (225 k.p.h.), and gusts to 165 m.p.h. (265 k.p.h.) or more, made it one of the worst storms ever to hit this island, putting it in the class with Typhoon Karen of 1962, and a tremendous unnamed typhoon in 1900.
On Friday afternoon May 21 Pamela’s twenty-mile-wide eye (the calm center of a typhoon) passed directly over Guam. Traveling at a poky 7 m.p.h. (11 k.p.h.), Pamela’s forward winds blasted Guam for hours early Friday. Then, as the eye was passing over, there was a lull from about 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Finally, the tail winds smashed the island throughout the night. For nearly thirty-six hours the island was under typhoon conditions.
Typhoon Karen, on the other hand, while said to be more intense, moved over Guam much faster and, hence, reportedly caused much less damage. Thus one observer noted: “Those who went through Typhoon Karen long have dominated conversations but I have a feeling that Karen will quietly disappear into unimportance.”
Living Through It
Typhoon warnings gave citizens an opportunity to prepare. People were urged to store drinking water, and to buy enough food for several days. Also, Christian overseers of Jehovah’s Witnesses made calls on families in their congregations, checking on their needs.
One overseer, who had lived through Typhoon Karen, was shocked as he watched his neighbors’ roofs being blown away by Pamela’s winds. “If this typhoon had hit here in 1962,” he noted, “everything on this island would have been destroyed. Back then most construction was with wood.”
A woman, who was living in a wooden structure with her paralyzed husband, had quite a problem in the middle of the storm. She explained: “I knew the house was about to go so I decided it would be safer out in our car. So I helped my husband outside and just when I opened the door of the car, most of the house roof blew off and fell right behind us. I put on the emergency brake and stepped on the foot brake and there we rode out the storm.”
Another person described the harrowing experience of living through the storm: “About noon the winds started to reach a peak. We heard a tremendous cracking sound; it was deafening. The roof began to peel off and fly away. The board flew off the front room window, and water was blown horizontally into the living room, inundating the whole house. Then an eight-foot-long piece of 2ʺ x 4ʺ wood came flying through one of the windows, landing across the bed. Next, I heard a crash as a board came through another window, sticking in the wall on the other side.
“There was a small sturdy table in the center room where we were, so my wife and I crouched under it, remaining there in the water for about two hours. Finally, around 2:15 p.m., the winds started to subside; the eye of the storm was passing directly over us. So for the next several hours there was hardly any wind at all. As we looked outside, we couldn’t believe all the debris that lay around. Most of our roof had been deposited in the woods about a hundred yards [91 meters] away. All the trees left standing were bare.
“As the eye passed over, the winds began to pick up toward evening, coming now in the opposite direction. We decided to wait out the rest of the storm in our car.
“The next morning, after spending the entire night in the car, we went by a house in which we had previously lived. All that was left was the foundation and the hot-water heater! It looked as if someone had taken an overripe squash, picked it up and then just splattered it all over about a hundred yards away. We were happy we had moved out of there!”*
When the eye passes over, it creates a very eerie feeling. One person explained: “During the eye my family and all the neighbors walked out to survey the damage. Everybody has a story to tell, each better than the next. . . . One of the more interesting things about the eye was the scores of huge birds, sea gulls or something similar, soaring across the eye, probably trying to stay in it. It was a fantastic sight.”
On Saturday everywhere people were grateful to have lived through the storm. True, some had lost everything, but others were more fortunate. An observer noted: “As we drove around, the thought that struck me most was how indiscriminately the homes had been damaged. Houses next door to each other and similarly constructed had totally different degrees of destruction. Some were wiped out, others had only leaves and branches lying in their front yards. Some wooden shacks survived, some concrete houses didn’t.”
A Blessing in Disguise?
Guam Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo estimated the cost of damages from Typhoon Pamela to be about $300 million for civilian losses. And the military leaders estimated “replacement costs” to exceed $200 million. As one reporter wrote: “It is a heartache to see so much of Guam’s growth blow away.” So how could this be viewed as a ‘blessing in disguise’?
This same reporter added: “Typhoon Pamela will lead us into the money room in Congress. It’s happened before—when Typhoon Karen devastated our small isle. It was after 1962 that Guam’s boom started and federal rehabilitation funding of $75 million poured in. It was said then that Karen was a blessing in disguise.”
Will the same be true of Pamela? J. J. Behan, the general manager of the Guam Telephone Authority, thinks it might be. The storm did some $10 million worth of damage to their telephone network, but much of the system needed to be replaced. So, as Mr. Behan noted, Pamela just made sure that it will be replaced sooner.
What is truly a blessing is that Pamela apparently did not directly kill anyone on Guam, as she did elsewhere. Yet for those who were injured and left homeless, Pamela was indeed a disaster of major proportions. No doubt there is one thing that all the islanders will agree on and hope for: In the future, may all of Pamela’s sisters steer a course far from the island of Guam!
[Picture on page 13]
The kind of destruction caused by Typhoon Pamela
It may be noted that while a car may prove more secure than one’s house in some instances, this is by no means the rule in all cases during such a storm.