Typhoon Mawar has barrelled into Guam with hurricane-strength winds of up to 150mph, plunging residents into darkness.
The typhoon made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm at around 9pm local time on Wednesday night, bringing with it heavy rains and a dangerous storm surge, the National Weather Service said.
Many homes and businesses were left completely without power and water as residents hunkered down inside houses and shelters.
Mawar marks the strongest storm to hit the US territory in decades, with officials confirming the Navy will send the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group to the island the size of Chicago to aid in the recovery.
Ahead of the typhoon striking Guam, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Guam on Monday. The declaration authorises FEMA to coordinate all federal disaster relief efforts to “alleviate the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population and to provide appropriate assistance to save lives.”
Naval Base Guam has been tracking and preparing for the storm since last week, including sending ships away from the island, a standard precaution, base spokesperson Valerie Maigue told the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Governor Lou Leon Guerrero said on social media that the declaration will support the mobilisation of resources into Guam, which is “especially crucial given our distance from the continental US.”
Mr Guerrero ordered residents of coastal, low-lying and flood-prone areas of the territory of over 150,000 people to evacuate to higher elevations.
With rain from the storm’s outer bands already falling on the territory, the NWS said the storm had been upgraded to a Category 4 “super typhoon,” meaning maximum sustained winds of 150 mph or greater.
Its centre was about 140 miles southeast of Guam late Tuesday local time and was moving to the north-northwest, according to the weather service. The weather service said the storm was intensifying and warned of a “triple threat” of winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surge on Guam.
The storm is moving at only eight mph but has an eye 17 miles wide, meaning people at the typhoon’s centre could see calm conditions for over three hours and conclude, far too soon, that the worst is over. As the eye leaves, the winds could rise to 150 mph in minutes, so people should remain sheltered until the government gives the all-clear, Patrick Doll, the lead weather service meteorologist in Tiyan, Guam, told the AP.
The northern part of Guam experienced strong winds, lightning, and heavy rainfall as Mawar moved about eight miles per hour on Wednesday night. The strongest part could still make a landing before it moves toward the Philippines later this week.
The NWS has issued flash flood warnings for Dededo, Yigo and Tamuning and advised residents to move to higher ground and to avoid driving or walking through flood waters.
Mawar is expected to subside as the centre of the storm slowly pulls away from Guam, but battering winds, heavy showers and strong gusty winds are expected in Guam in the following hours.
Most of the island suffered power outages and only 1,000 of its 52,000 customers still had electricity, according to CNN.
Only one plant on the island is functioning and serving specifically Andersen Air Force Base (AAFB), Camp Blaz Marine Base and a small portion of Dededo village, the Guam Power Authority said in a statement. Restoration will begin once the weather conditions are improved.
Guam Memorial Hospital, the only public hospital serving the island, is operating thanks to a standby generator.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.