Daily Archives: 01/12/2003

Back in the saddle again – almost

I am back on Guam and settling back into the normal routine. I start back to work on Monday. I enjoyed my three weeks back in the States, visiting family, playing cards, playing the tourist and generally enjoying being away from Guam. But before I bore anyone with the particulars of my trip, let me talk about the typhoon and the devastation it wrought on the island.

The storm was the worst to hit Guam since 1976. Supertyphoon Pongsana struck Guam with sustained winds in excess of 160 mph, with gusts to 185 mph. The real problem was the length of time this storm stayed over the island. All the meteorologists predicted the storm would turn to the north. It did, but only once it struck Guam. The storm paused over the island, then headed north towards Rota and the open sea. All told, the island was battered by immense, damaging winds for almost 12 hours.

Simply put, Guam was caught with her pants down. The meteorologists kept saying the storm wasn’t going to hit Guam, right up to Sunday morning. People didn’t prepare, a foolish oversight on their part, but then the best minds said this was nothing to worry about.

Recovery efforts were stymied by a disaster that happened at the height of the storm. A fire started at the Mobil fuel tank farm, probably sparked by lightning. The entire tank farm ignited, one after another. The fire burned for six days because of no water pressure in the pipes. Since many people didn’t bother to fuel up before the storm, vehicles were soon stranded on the sides of the road. Long lines appeared at the few gas stations that survived the typhoon, and riots reportedly broke out among the anxious people in line. By Wednesday after the typhoon all gasoline sales were halted, and only emergency vehicles were allowed to refuel. It was an amazing sight to see the highways and intersections deserted and empty. The fire was finally extinguished on the following Sunday, and gas stations tentatively started sales again. Only $10 of gas at a time though.

This gas shortage stymied all relief efforts. The wells could not pump water, the telephone exchanges went down, and of course the damage to the power grid was massive. No power, no water, no phone service, no gasoline. A 21st century community, hurled back to the 19th in the space of a few days.

Damage at my office was extensive. The windows blew in and flooded the server room, bringing down our main server. To make matters worse, GTA fried up their routers with an poorly installed generator and left us with no connection to our corporate offices. The air conditioning units were destroyed and the carpet was soaked. Mold started growing fast, so we tore out all the carpeting and lived with the funky aroma.

All in all, life was reduced to the bare essentials; finding water, food, gas, and long hours at work. Seems like I was working like a fool before my departure date.

I flew off the island on December 21, and arrived back in St. Louis later that same day. It was a good two week vacation with my family, in both St. Louis and Chicago. I got a white Christmas, I think for the first time in two decades, and it was great visiting with my family and friends again. When I returned to Guam, the water was back and the phones were working again. But the power is still out in my neighborhood. 61% of the island has power restored, but my neighborhood looks like it did the day after the storm. Lines are still down across the street and power poles are still at awkward angles. Scuttlebutt says at least three more weeks before they get to our area. Great. I might have power by February. Great.

I return to work tomorrow. A return to the normal routine. I guess I will start posting my normal reports again tomorrow or when time (and generator) allow.