IN a breathless report posted online on Tuesday, CNN declared that if Mawar “strikes [Guam] with higher sustained winds, it would be the strongest since Super Typhoon Karen, widely regarded as the worst storm to ever hit the island, struck in 1962 with sustained winds of 172 mph.”

Bank of Guam founder Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero, in his charming memoir published in 1998, recalled that in the early-post World War II years, typhoons “came and went with very little relief from the government.” In those days, he said, “the relief came principally from our own resources, working together and helping each other as neighbors. My father, grandfather, and everyone I was associated with would never accept a single penny from charity. Welfare departments, social workers, and food stamp programs would have been a total failure in those days…. Yes, by today’s standard we were very poor in those days, but for one reason or another we always made it. I believe it was our faith, confidence, and strong sense of freedom and independence that kept us going. Nothing was free; there was always a price attached to it, directly or indirectly, which is the case in Guam today. A lot of people will cheat and lie to get something for nothing. It is a product of time and change.”

When Karen devastated Guam in 1962, Tun Jesus said he and his family “survived…by staying at my brother-in-law’s house, which was damaged except for one corner where we all huddled together.” He said during the height of the storm, “on our way to my brother-in-law’s house, we experienced a frightening incident. I could not control the steering wheel of my car and suddenly noticed that my wheels were two feet up in the air! But by some luck, the wind returned the car down to the road and no one was hurt.”

The New Yorker’s E.J. Kahn Jr., in his “A Reporter in Micronesia” published in 1966, described Guam as “a very special place to the natives of the Trust Territory.” Administered by the U.S., the TT comprised of the Marshall Islands, the (Northern) Marianas, Palau, Ponape (Pohnpei), Truk (Chuuk) and Yap. Saipan was the capital. (Hence, what is today persistently and erroneously called “Capitol Hill” was actually named “Capital Hill.”)

In those days, Kahn said, “One cannot get from the [TT] headquarters at Saipan to any other part of the Trust Territory, by scheduled transportation, except by going through Guam.” The TT economy, moreover was “heavily dependent on Guam, through which port pass most of the goods that the rest of [the Micronesian region] uses.”

According to Kahn, when a Marshall Islands iroij or chief first visited Guam, he was taken to its capital village, then known as Agaña, “a modest town with few buildings more than two stories high.” The chief was also shown a Strategic Air Command base, “whence B-52 bombers have set forth for Vietnam, and a big Navy base harboring Polaris-missile-equipped submarines (with the ubiquitous Soviet trawler hovering offshore).” The chief also got to ride in an elevator. “After all these experiences, he was moved to exclaim, ‘Tell me, is America as big as Guam?’ ”

On Sunday, Nov. 11, 1962 Karen barreled into Guam. Kahn said “wind velocities of two hundred miles an hour — more than twice what is regarded on the American East Coast as hurricane force — were recorded.” The anemometers broke down, he added. “Automobiles sailed off over houses; houses — many of them Quonset huts — sailed over other houses; and the air was filled with such lethal missiles as three-mile-a-minute coconuts, not to mention whole coconut trees. Much of the normally lush foliage of Guam was stripped away, and perhaps for the first time in the island’s history, its trees had a bare, autumnal look.”

Miraculously, Kahn added, “only nine people were killed, but around ninety percent of the island’s buildings were demolished. Not only did the power go out but so did most of the utility poles and lines; they just blew away…. The total damage was estimated at as high as sixty million dollars [worth over $603 million today]….”

Kahn said by “the time reconstruction is finished, Guam should be in better shape than it was before Karen.” Still, he added, Guam “has never had much of an unemployment problem, largely because more than fifty percent of its labor force works for one department or another of the local and federal government. In the hot and humid climate (‘Even the mildew mildews here’ is a standard Guam joke), where the only air-conditioned rooms at Navy headquarters are one sheltering the admiral and one sheltering the lawbooks, the local folk have found it more agreeable to hold desk jobs than to engage in hard physical labor…. [T]he attractiveness of white-collar jobs has all but eliminated farming as a means of livelihood. Government now occupies the work time of more than ten thousand Guamanians…. Most of the skilled construction workers now busy on Guam — and there are some seven thousand of them — are Filipinos, who have been a mainstay of the labor force since 1947.”

The government of Guam, for its part, had “established an apprentice program in the construction trades, through which, over several years, it hopes to train local carpenters, plumbers, masons, electricians, and other specialists, so that the ubiquitous Filipinos can in due course be replaced.”

Sixty-one years ago.

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Zaldy Dandan is a recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His four books are available on

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