typhoon karen

        by art dralle sr

   November 11, 1962, the forty-fourth anniversary of the end of World War One. What a day and night! Typhoon Karen struck Guam with a fury never before felt in these islands. Official reports set the sustained winds - at the height of the storm - at 150 knots, with gusts to 180 knots. For the layman, this means the wind blew steadily at 172 miles per hour and, in gusts, up to 207 miles per hour!

   The Joint Typhoon Warning Center - a joint operation between the Navy and Air Force Weather Squadrons - had been tracking Karen since she was found in her infancy, as a mere low pressure area which was suspect. They kept flying into and around her, collecting all they could, on their instruments. These flying weather men - some of the best in the world - stayed right with her, actually flying into her eye, even after she had become a full fledge typhoon.

   Sometime around early spring, 1962, Captain William J Kotsch, Commanding Officer of Fleet Weather Central/Joint Typhoon Center, gave a talk to Naval Supply Depot Supervisors on the functions of his Command. At that time, he predicted that a severe typhoon would pass directly over Guam, either in ’62 or ’63, most likely in ’62. He also predicted there would be a certain number of typhoons occurring. He was absolutely right on both counts. Karen did strike directly over Guam and was a severe (to put it very mildly), typhoon, and she was also the last for the period and was the number predicted.

   The flying weathermen discovered Karen had two eyes, instead of the customary single eye. Apparently this is a rare phenomenon. They took a picture of these eyes and showed it on KUAM-TV. The picture was very clear, showing two distinct areas completely devoid of any clouds. When these two eyes pass any given point, that point will experience two dead calms, instead of just one.

   Typhoon Condition I was set at about 0800 on Sunday morning. This meant we could expect winds in excess of 65 knots with the next twelve hours. Around noon, the civilian police announced, over the radio, that no vehicles or pedestrians would be allowed on the highways or streets after 1500, unless you were on your way to a typhoon shelter.

   Early on Sunday afternoon, we had covered our kitchen windows with canvas and heavy plastic to keep out the rain and wind. There was not glass because of the large back porch behind the kitchen. We also nailed blocks of wood against the glass louvers to keep them from being blown open. When we air-conditioned that end of the house - the bedrooms and bathroom - we had covered the windows with sheets of heavy plastic, leaving the closed glass louvers on the outside, to protect the plastic.

   The wind velocity was steadily increasing. Karen was first found to be heading in a path about 120 miles north of Guam, nearly over Saipan. The she changed course again and headed for the northern tip of Guam. Getting a little closer, she changed course again, heading straight for the southern end of the island at a little over six miles per hour. The eye actually struck the East Coast of Guam at about 2145, about five miles north of the southern tip, and passed over the West Coast at about 2220.

   Fortunately, before she struck the island, she had increased here speed to about 18 miles an hour, nearly three times as fast as she had been traveling. No one dares to think what might have been the result if she had crossed over the island at only six or seven miles an hour. We doubt if anything would have been left standing on the island.

   Having learned from experience, we knew that heavy rains, accompanied by heavy winds, meant leaks in the bedrooms. We moved our double bed, and Arthur’s, into the living room, expecting to have a dry place to sleep for the night. At about 1900, the lights went out. We were prepared for that, however, as we had filled the gasoline stove and gasoline lantern, anticipating the power failure, so we had plenty of light all night.

   We don't remember to complete sequence of this as they happened, and we didn’t stop to write anything down as they did - wish we had. We were sitting in the living room, on the beds, when WHAM, one of the kitchen window covers blew in. The wind was coming from the north. I tried pushing the plastic back over the window, but I might as well have tried to tip over the Empire State Building.

   At another time, we were sitting in Suzie’s room - the center room at the east of the house. Again we heard a terrific crash and felt a strong pressure in our ears. I flashed my light around the corner into Arthur’s room, and found the Masonite panel, above the air-conditioner, had been blown in and flung against the far wall. In that short time the room became a mess. Suzie’s room was still holding up pretty well, with just a few minor leaks so far.

   The wind began shifting again, this time in the east, and the plastic sheets on the windows were beginning to strain against their moorings in the windows. We decided we should shift, too. Back to the living room we went. We had heard numerous things bouncing around m outside, mostly the corrugated roofing metal sheets. These are extremely dangerous missiles during a high wind - one young girl is known to have been decapitated by one of these sheets. Afraid something might come sailing through our glass windows, we placed a double bed mattress against one window, to the right of the piano and the box springs against the window to the left. Our bed and most of the living room chairs were already wet from the leaks, so we sat on the floor, on cushions, in front of the piano. The winds began shifting again, this time to the south - the front of the house. Suddenly, glass crashed and the big box spring was flung against me, nearly throwing me. What hit the window, we will never know. While I was resetting the springs, Jane grabbed Suzie and headed for the kitchen, with Arthur right behind her.

   Holding Suzie, Jane sat on the kitchen floor, smack in the water. We couldn’t stay there with one window already gone in the kitchen. There was broken glass, utensils, and appliances scattered all over, lying in the water. More windows might be blown in. We tried our bedroom closet, which was about eight feet long and only about 28 inches wide. I put a chair in and Jane went in, still holding Suzie. Another chair and in went Arthur. I stood in the doorway. With the four of us in that tiny space, crowed with clothing and Xmas toys (hidden in the back), it soon became almost unbearably stuffy and cramped. We couldn’t move.

   It was then that we decided to move into the bathroom, our final resting-place for the night. We later learned this was also a final resting-place for numerous other families on Guam. There was only one bad leak and a few small ones, so far. We found a canvas cot in the closet and set it up for the kids, so they were able to get at least a little sleep. Jane and Id I sat on dining room chairs all night. At least we could stand up once in a while, and stretch. Jane tried lying on the floor, on a thick bedspread. She didn’t get to stay very long before the water soaked through. While she was down, I tried stretching across the two dining room chairs and the commode. That didn’t work out, either. Fortunately, Jane’s clothes were still dry in the closet, so she was able to change to dry clothes.

   While sitting there, we kept waiting for the eye to pass over us. There would be no mistake about it, if it did go over us. This is one of the most dangerous periods during a typhoon. Before the eye reaches a given point, the terrific winds are pounding and battering from one side, weakening everything. When the edge of the eye reaches that given point, suddenly there is no wind, no rain, nothing at all but a dead calm, with a bright, cloudless sky, clear as crystal. This is when many people, foolishly think they can come out of hiding for awhile, and relax. No matter what the wind velocity in the typhoon is the storm as a whole can race along at very high speed, or it can creep along very slowly. It can even come to a dead stop and still pack the terrific winds that destroyed Guam. The time for the eye to pass over depends on the diameter of the eye, and the rate of speed which the typhoon, as a whole, is traveling. As soon as the opposite side of the eye reaches the same given point, the blinding rains and terrific winds are suddenly there again, blowing from the opposite direction. First she weakens you from one side, then makes a 180-degree turn and knocks you flat on the other side.

   We felt fairly safe in the bathroom, partially because we didn’t know just how bad the typhoon was, how strong it was, never dreaming the wind velocity would exceed 200 mile an hour. When we air-conditioned, we had sealed the bathroom window with thick plywood, leaving a ten-inch hole for an exhaust fan. A concrete stairway with its supporting concrete posts was just outside the window, affording much protection from flying debris. The bathtub was filled with water, for flushing the toilet and washing. We also had a large picnic ice chest filled with drinking water - it stopped running at about 2100 on Sunday night. We could still be sanitary, at least until the bathtub ran dry, and we had plenty of drinking water.

   We had Arthur’s transistor radio, and the station - we have only one, KUAM - stayed on the air until Karen blew down the 500-foot tower and then smashed the equipment. We didn’t notice they were off until we realized the announcer was speaking in Japanese. The only time we can that station is when KUAM goes off the air. Sometime during the night, a new leak developed, right over the radio, soaking it. It finally pooped out, too. The Japanese was a comfort, even though we couldn’t understand the announcer, as long as it lasted.

   Once in awhile, when the wind seemed to slacken off, or was coming from the west, I would sneak out and take a look at the house. The door leading from our bedroom into the dining room opened to the left, giving me some protection from the south and the wall was close to my right. The kitchen was a shambles. Most of our appliances - coffeepot, toaster and the like - pots and pans had been blown out of the closets or off the counters and were strewn about the floor, lying in the water. Papers, broken class and many other things were scattered everywhere. Water was pouring through the ceilings, not just between the panel joints, but through the panels themselves. The water was as deep as the doorsills and overflowing. In the bedrooms, the plastic sheets over the windows were all pulled loose and flapping in the wind, even though the glass louvers were still intact. In Arthur’s room, another window had been completely smashed in and the room was in shambles. Even his papers and bits of cloth were plastered to the walls by the rain and wind. Some of the walls in the living room and kitchen were beginning to bulge from so much water in them. We couldn’t understand why so much water was coming through the ceilings all over the house.

   At about 0600, Monday morning, I looked between the blades of the exhaust fan in the bathroom and saw it was beginning to dawn, after a nightmarish night. I couldn’t see much, just part of a house across the street, because of the tunnel-like box around the fan. It was rather quiet, so I decided to go out and take another look around. In the dim light, the place was even worse looking than by flashlight. I walked over to the front door and looked out through the large glass panel. Why the glass panel was left intact, I will never understand - with both windows on each side smashed.

   What I saw, when I looked through that door, nearly made me sick to my stomach. One nightmare was over and now, another started. As far as I could see, without opening the door, there was nothing but rubble, a mass of wreckage. Only one house still stood, with a roof still on it. Many quonsets had been blown away and many more had been demolished where they stood. Some frame houses had nothing left but the wooden floors, and maybe a few bits of inner walls, here and there. Big power line poles had been snapped like matchsticks, the high-tension wires twisted and tangled into knots. Pieces of houses, wall and roofs, lay scattered everywhere, even household furnishings. The big double garage behind the house was flat much had disappeared. Our back porch had much of the screen and uprights ripped loose. A large sheet of roofing metal was wedged under Arthur’s bicycle and other things we had tied down on the porch. A piece of 2"x6" lumber, about 12 feet long was sticking out of the back wall of an upstairs apartment. Where it came from, nobody knows.

   When I went back into the bathroom, Jane said she could see in my face that it must be terrible outside. She couldn’t possibly have realized, at that time, the complete and utter destruction I had seen in those few moments. Several people told me later, Jane had said I aged ten years from the time I went out until I got back - about ten minutes. At about 06:30, we decided to leave. After removing the debris from around and under the car, and enough from the driveway, we finally were able to back out to the street.

   It was then, as we reached the street, we found out why so much water had been coming through the ceilings. The entire roof was gone from the house, not one piece remaining, The fact the building was two stories high apparently saved us from much worse, as we still had the floors above us, of the upstairs apartments. When you enter the upstairs apartments, you step down about three or four inches. This area had simply filled with water and then leaked through the floor and then our ceiling. The following Saturday we found out when the roof had come off. A nearby neighbor, leaving his own house because it was coming apart, had seen the whole roof peel off and sail away in the darkness at about 2230, Sunday night.

   Friends of ours - Ed & Phyllis Deto - lived about six blocks away, as the crow flies, in Tumon Heights. Their house had concrete-clock walls, and we thought they might have fared better than we had. We headed there, carefully picking our way. Some roads were impassable because of the downed poles, wires and other debris blocking them. We could see just about everything imaginable lying about in the roads and yards. All power and telephone service was wiped out, island wide. Later, the Navy announced that about 1,000 poles would have to be replaced and many hundreds more would have to be reset because they were leaning over dangerously. With the radio station gone, too, there was an absolute lack of communications and, for awhile, even with the outside world.

   Ed’s house was no better off than ours was. It was a single story and both the roof and ceiling were gone from the front of the house. Over the bedrooms and bathroom, the ceiling was still in place but the covering roof was gone and water was pouring through. On Sunday night, Ed, Phyllis, David, 10, and Barbara, 2, had crawled under the dining table at first. Things started getting rough, so they too, headed for the bathroom. It was small, but Ed managed to squeeze a double mattress onto the floor. He also rigged a piece of canvas over the mattress, tied it to hinges and pipes, and there they huddled, trying to keep comparatively dry and take care of the kids.

   We tried putting bits of wood along the joints in the remaining part of the ceiling to keep out some of the water, but it was a losing battle and we finally gave up. We didn’t have much in the way of repair materials or tools except broken lumber, a couple of hammers and a few nails. All around the circle in which Ed lives there are similar concrete-block walled homes. Most had a least parts of the walls gone, or blown in, smashed in by flying debris or pulled in when the roofs went off.

   More friends lived close by Ed’s house - Bill and Mae Savitsky. Their house had been damaged some, but not too badly to stay in. The room they had built out of their garage had been destroyed, a piece of 2" x 4" lumber had charged through their concrete-block kitchen wall, leaving a hold about a foot in diameter, and the floors were covered with water. Other than that they were in pretty good shape. After a bit of convincing by Mae (it didn’t take much), the Detos and Dralles gratefully accepted her invitation to stay until we could find another place to sleep. We brought along our gasoline lantern, so we had plenty of light, and the gasoline stove, which we implemented with charcoal barbecue grills.

   Monday afternoon, Ed and I decided to go down to our old house and see what we could find that we might need in the next day or so. The water was still pouring through the ceilings, even though it had stopped raining several hours before. After poking around the wreckage, took a few pictures and left. We decided to look at the rest of our village of Tamuning. Driving was hazardous and slow. Even the main highway, Marine Drive, was nearly blocked by debris. Pole and pole had been broken off and they were lying across the highway. Some had snapped off at the base, but were still hanging in the air, suspended by the wires attached to a still standing pole. Parts of buildings and household goods could be found everywhere.

   The main entrance to the Universal Theater was still standing, but its all-glass front was smashed. The rest of the building, the theater portion itself, was completely demolished, a mass of rubble covering the seats and stage area. The Tamuning Fire Station was reduced to a few twisted metal ribs and about ten feet of inner wall. Further into town, we had to look around to figure out just where we were, in order to determine what any particular wreckage used to be. Many of the familiar landmarks were gone. One row of stores looked as though a giant bulldozer had crawled over them, grinding everything to bits. Another building must have had three walls blow out at the same time - the roof was lying on the floor. The cliff inland from Tamuning was plastered with debris. You could see all sorts of things jammed into the leafless brush.

   Some buildings had one end demolished, while the other end remained almost untouched. Several stored had large windows left intact, while most of the building was destroyed. Nearing Agana, we could see what had been the roof of the Pacific Construction Company lumber shed. It was now jammed against the cliff, about sixty feet above the building. A taxicab dispatch shack, about 12’ square, had been blown clear across the four lane highway and left in a parking lot.

   A little farther, we saw a crew of Navy Sea Bees, using a crane and crowbars, digging into the wreckage of a sporting goods store. We learned later they were digging for the bodies of three men who had been killed the night before, when the building collapsed on them. A little restaurant, the CoffeePot, had nothing left but a row of stools and the counter. No matter where you looked, there was utter destruction.

   Smashed cars could be seen everywhere. Many had all the glass smashed. Flying debris had caved them in, in various places. Many had been tossed around by the wind. Out at the air base, Karen picked up a ’58 Chevy sedan and threw it over the house and dropped it into the backyard. Hard to believe? No, not after what we have seen! Up at the Guam Memorial Hospital, we saw two cars that had been rolled over and over and then left in a deep ditch, badly damaged. Another had been smashed against the wall of the Navel Hospital. We saw another, near the Police Station, wedged under a pole guy-wire, upside down, smashed. At the Agana Boat Basin, two large boats - one a pleasure boat about 65 feet long and one an old steel-hulled LCM - were high and dry on the highway. Smaller boats had been carried as far as two blocks from the water. Out in Apra Harbor, a large floating e away. Two large tugboats were also beached with it. At least three ships are known to have sunk in the harbor.

   The Guam Memorial Hospital, built within the last six years, was rendered 95% inoperative. It is about six floors high, built of steel reinforce concrete, and some of these walls were even cracked. The wind blew in the large windows, destroying everything on the inside that it could reach. The Naval Hospital had to take over practically all of the medical services on the island.

   Out in Piti, a few bars, stores and numerous homes had lined the beach along the highway. Almost every structure was completely demolished, and there is practically nothing left standing in the area. Here and there, you could see stoves, or washing machines, or refrigerators lying in the shallow water, on the reef, just offshore. This is one of the villages near which the eye passed, about seven mile south of Tamuning.

   The village of Yona, hardest hit of all, is estimated to be 97% destroyed. Tamuning was estimated to have been 74% destroyed; though this figure seems to be a little high. It is understood even the military installations took severe beatings. Many of the power poles and wires, that are still up are now sporting ‘bow-ties’ of large sheets of corrugated roofing metal. The sheets just wrapped themselves around and stayed. Five years ago, on November 1957, everyone thought Typhoon Lola had been pretty nasty, doing all the damage she did. Now, after Karen, most people think Lola was just heaving a healthy sigh, a stiff breeze.

   Although hundreds were reported injured, the official death toll stands at only eleven! After looking at all the wreckage, it is hard to believe only eleven people died. The low death rate is partly attributed to the fact that Karen was at her worst during the dark hours. People couldn’t see out their windows, because of the blinding, wind-driven rains, and so did not fully realize just how bad the storm was. They couldn’t see their own neighbors’ house, so didn’t see them being blown apart and away. One family of three is said to have crawled about 100 yards, from the demolished home, to the Guam memorial Hospital. It took them about two hours, at the height of the storm, only to find the hospital was also becoming a dangerous place to be in. Many people, whose frame houses had been blown down, crawled under the floor and sat on the wet ground the rest of the night. Most of the frame houses, here, are built on blocks, or stilts, about two feet above the ground.

   One of the worst things to see that early Monday morning was a family, standing in the street, staring at what was left of their home. Some we saw were standing in the middle of the floor, all that was left. Their life savings, all they had accumulated, their furniture, clothing and other belongings were all gone, scattered around the streets and yards, some caught in the few remaining trees and bushes. Some had started poking through the rubble, searching for something they could salvage, some prized possession. It is doubtful many realized exactly what they were doing, those first few hours, when they say the remnants of their homes. Many must have been in shock. It is going to the very hard for many to get back on their feet. Few have much, if any money. Although we lost about $500 worth of material things, we lost nothing as compared to the losses suffered by so many others.

   On Tuesday, we found an empty house that still had a roof. It turned out I knew the owner, who was on Saipan at the time, so I had no qualms about moving in and telling him about it later. Many of the wooden louvers had been blown out and some of the screens were gone and the floor was covered with water, most of which had come through the open window. Our friends, the Quinolas, had also lost the top of their house and were staying with two other families. We invited them to stay with us until we could locate adequate housing. Fortunately, I had most of a roll of copper screen so we got the torn screens replaced. Then we scrounged around and got enough louvers to cover, at least, the bedroom windows, broken as they were. We moved in on Wednesday.

   Water was a problem. There were only a few places where water was available, mostly fire hydrants. Everyone was warned against drinking water from any source except those marked with official signs. A fire engine was making the rounds, but the amount was limited, as they were trying to spread it around. It was real handy for those who had no transportation during the day, as a curfew had been declared and armed military patrols were out every night, some with war dogs. They were there to prevent looting of the damaged homes. We were glad to see them out there, even if we couldn’t go on the streets after dark.

   Of course, all the schools were closed. Some had been destroyed or badly damaged. The rest were crowded with the homeless. Except for reporting to my office on Tuesday, I stayed home all that week, trying to salvage what we could, and making the new place fit to live in. Two to four times a day, Jane, the kids, and I would go to the old house, slosh around on the still water covered, slimy floors, collecting what we could, loading the car and hauling it away. Do you remember the movies about the Oakies? How they loaded their cars with all the household furnishings it could carry, load the family and drive off? Guam has seen a lot of that kind of traffic lately. Everywhere, chair legs can be seen sticking out of car windows, the trunks full of dressers and other furniture, beds and other things tied to the rooftops. We were pretty well exhausted by the end of the week.

   After the first week, we though we should have just about everything out that we wanted to save, but, there was always something else missing and back again we would go. The last time we went over, the place really looked in bad shape. The water was still dripping through, the ceilings and walls, which were plywood were peeling off, layer by layer. Most of the furniture, which had been left in the upstairs apartments, was completely soaked, molding and rotting already. The whole building had a terrible odor to it, and should be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. I wouldn’t live in it if they simply repair the broken or damaged parts - it is too waterlogged and rotten.

   Wherever you go, now, you find people helping each other, friend and strangers alike. When I wanted to move my piano and big stereo and several other heavy items, I went to Asiatic Transfer Pacific Company, having heard they were helping people move their things to safety. The manger, Mr. Barry, found me a driver and a large truck. We loaded the stuff, with the help of neighbors, who had stopped repairing their own homes long enough to help someone else. Later, I went to Mr. Barry and asked what I owed him for his services. He just smiled, tiredly, and simply said, "forget it". It seems I needed help to save my things, he had the equipment, so he helped me and that was that. To appreciate this more fully, you would have to see his six warehouses, which contained military household goods shipments. Some were already packed for shipment, others not. Not one was still standing. There was nothing but a twisted mass of metal - roofing iron and steel ribs - covering the contents, which were now exposed to the elements. All of this for him to worry about, yet he had to give a hand to someone else who came to him for help.

   After burning our gasoline lantern all Sunday night, it was just about empty. A neighbor of Ed’s whom we just met, insisted he give me enough gas to fill it again. I later found out he had given me half of all he had, and he had only enough left to fill his lantern once. Our new neighbors - Sandy and Angie Smith - have done many things for us. He was able to get white gas for the lanterns and stoves, and always saw that I had enough for our use. We were using our freezer for an ice chest. When we couldn’t get ice, he plugged in his small portable generator. This froze some of the water in the bottom, and kept the remaining ice from melting for awhile. Whenever he did this, he had to disconnect his own things, in order to get enough power to us. One night I asked if I could use his pick-up truck the next night. When he came home the next night, I not only got his truck, but two of his men and he also helped get a stove and refrigerator for me. That is the way it went.

   The electric and telephone companies in Honolulu and the Navy in Hawaii sent in many crews to restore our services. The Air Force and Navy actually had their heavy trucks and heavy equipment flown in, along with the personnel. All of the crews - Hawaiians, Navy, Air Force and Guam - did a tremendous job, laboring many, long hours, seven days a week, to give our power and telephone lines back to us. One local man was electrocuted during this operation, in one of the villages.

   If the power crews had waited another three hours, before throwing the switch on our street, we would have been without electricity exactly one month. When the water was turned on, the Friday following Karen, there was sure a lot of excitement, but you should have heard the people "when the lights came on again".

   Nearly all the roads have been cleared of debris. Many of the homes and other buildings are still the piles of rubble that Karen had made them. Here and there, where the buildings had not been damaged to badly, people are starting to repair, replacing windows and roofs, some with new materials and others with whatever they can salvage. In some places, people have just fixed up one room in which to live in until they can repair, or rebuild, the rest of the house. Many are living in large tents, furnished by the military. Some, who lost their roofs, are using these tents to cover the tops of their homes, as a temporary roof. Many families are still doubled up, even tripled, with other families, as we were. Out in Piti, along the beach, many families have scrounged around and found bits of lumber and roofing metal and have built small, crude shacks to live in.

   The Federal Government has shipped in several million square feet of plywood and more millions of board feet of lumber. Temporary houses are to be built for the homeless, which is said to number 35,000. These houses will consist of a wooden floor, the walls partially wood and partially screen. The roof will be a large tent.

   No doubt, by this time, you are beginning to think this has been laid on pretty thick, grossly exaggerated, and hard to believe. Believe me, if we had not been through what we have, and had not seen what we have, we probably wouldn’t believe it either. Even knowing all theses things, having been through it all, we find it hard to believe all this destruction, this devastation, has been caused only by the wind.

   Have you ever been in a windstorm, with the wind howling along at about 35 miles an hours? Can you remember how you leaned into it, to keep from being blown off your feet? Can you remember hanging onto your hat with one hand and holding onto something else to help you along, with your coattails flying? Try, then, to imagine what the wind would be like if it was blowing six times that fast, if you can!

   Care for a TYPHOON, anyone?

Dralle 2001