FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
Deneen Brown and her family had eight days’ warning before Typhoon Mawar started thrashing their Guam home with 150 mph winds at 9 p.m. May 24 and kept pummeling for 12 long, dark hours. Rain seeped in through shutters built to protect against torrential downpours and flying debris.
“We had to get rid of couches and other furniture due to mold, but we made it through alive and that’s the most important thing,” she said. “Material things can be replaced.”
They thought they were ready. Twenty-three years living on the U.S. island territory – almost 16 as a physical security specialist for Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management – taught her how to prepare. Her family stashed canned and dry goods. They loaded the bathtubs and extra buckets with water to flush toilets, filled over 20 5-gallon jugs with drinking water, topped the gas in their cars and bought generator fuel.
It wasn’t enough.
“This typhoon changed my perspective. You can never be overprepared,” Brown said.
Her family went 18 days without power and running water. They took sponge baths and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They ran the generator only a couple hours a day, just long enough to keep the fridge cold and to heat beans or soup in the microwave. Their gas cans ran dry as the days passed, so they sat over six hours in a line with other residents desperate for fuel – only to face a $15 limit. Local businesses struggled to clean the rubble and muck left behind and catered only to locals with cash in hand.
About one week into the recovery, nearby Naval Base Guam opened its fitness center as a 24-hour shelter, giving military members, Defense Department civilians, and families access to showers, charging stations and a moment’s rest in the cool air conditioning. Brown stopped there in the mornings on her way to a makeshift office at a DLA Disposition Services site since her regular building still lacked power.
“I considered myself lucky because there were many Guam residences that went without water or power, or both, for over a month,” she said.
Brown knows the next big storm is a matter of time, not if. She and her family – her husband, youngest son and wife, three grandchildren, 20 dogs, five cats, and a parrot – are already planning.
“Probably some the biggest things we learned from Mawar are that you can’t run a generator without gas and you can’t get gas if the power and ATMs are out. You’ve got to have cash,” she said.
When “next time” becomes “now,” they’ll also have a range of battery sizes for flashlights and battery powered fans as well as more extension cords to run small appliances from the generator.
Mawar was the scariest storm of Brown’s time in Guam because it lasted so long, she said, but the strongest storm was Typhoon Pongsona, which blew in with 173 mph winds and left the entire island without power in December 2002.
Typhoons and hurricanes are both tropical cyclones, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They’re called typhoons if occurring in the Northwest Pacific and hurricanes in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific and eastern North Pacific.
Whatever the name, Brown’s advice is the same: “Prepare, prepare, prepare.”
National Preparedness Month is held every September to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies. The Department of Homeland Security and Red Cross have specific information to help individuals and families prepare for hurricanes and deal with the aftermath.