Typhoon Mangkhut passed over the Mariana Islands on Monday, sparing Guam from what weather experts had projected would be a destructive Category 4 typhoon.
Hundreds of Guam residents sought shelter in northern, central and southern public schools to weather out the storm, and government and business operations shut down for the day.
The typhoon veered toward the northern part of the Marianas archipelago, changing course from an earlier forecast that showed it could be a direct hit for Guam.
There were earlier references that compared Mangkhut to the destructive Super Typhoon Pongsona in 2002, but island residents said by Monday afternoon, it felt more like the much weaker Typhoon Dolphin in 2015.
'We were looking at a very grim situation'
"We dodged a big one," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Landon Aydlett. "Thank God we weren't looking at a Typhoon Pongsona coming through."
"Folks praying out there – the prayers worked," he said. "We were looking at a very grim situation about 72 hours ago, but things have improved dramatically."
Mangkhut was expected to make its closest point of approach to Guam around 7 p.m. Monday, bringing tropical storm force conditions and 6 to 8 inches of rainfall and heavy wind gusts.
"We asked people to stay indoors and stay sheltered until sunrise Tuesday because these tropical storm force conditions will remain in the area. ... Listen for updates when the all clear is given," Aydlett stated.
Sustained winds of 37 mph were recorded early Monday afternoon at A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport, with gusts recorded at 47 mph. Flights into and out of Guam were canceled Monday, but could resume later today.
Aydlett said the weather service forecast that Guam would experience 58 mph sustained winds for several hours as Mangkhut passed the island Monday night. Tropical storm force conditions were expected to linger through the early morning hours today.
Forecasters expect weather conditions "going back to normal" this afternoon with a few showers and thunderstorms.
Still, residents are warned to stay away from the water for the next 24 hours due to dangerous high surf. Residents are also advised to stay away from hiking trails.
Gov. Eddie Calvo and Rear Adm. Shoshanna Chatfield, commander, Joint Region Marianas, this morning are expected to make a determination of when the island will return to Condition of Readiness 4. Log onto PostGuam.com for the latest on the status of schools, government operations and businesses re-opening.
Not taking chances
At the Astumbo Elementary School shelter, Kisano Aichaem, 67, said this was his first storm on Guam, but he felt the intensity of Pongsona when it hit Chuuk.
He remembered the super typhoon had very strong winds, and that's why he was scared about Mangkhut.
While at the shelter, he worried that strong enough winds would destroy his wooden house in Yigo.
At Machananao Elementary School, Lorenza Atan, 52, remembered how Pongsona destroyed her mother's house.
While her mother, brother and sister took shelter at Simon Sanchez High School, she said, "their house flew away." Lorenza said she became afraid of this storm after seeing photos from the aftermath of a recent typhoon that hit Japan.
While at the shelter, she said she was nervous because she didn't have money to repair the home if it got destroyed.
She also worried about her sister, who didn't go to the shelter but instead chose to look after the family's belongings in a house with a tin roof.
For 75-year-old Rene Abando and his wife, and their son, daughter in-law and two grandchildren, seeking shelter meant being holed up in a local hotel as they waited for Mangkhut to pass. They live in Dededo and, he said, "the house is not safe."
This is not the first time the family has sought refuge during a storm.
"We always do this during a typhoon," he said.
Abando, who has been on Guam since 1974, said he saw the destruction of Typhoon Pamela in 1976, when the island went without power for many months.
Yigo Mayor Rudy Matanane said several storm shelters had filled up by Monday morning and more schools were opened as shelters.
He said the Yigo Mayor's Office had about 100 sandbags for island residents who may need them.
There were no major reports of flooding as of 2 p.m. Monday.
Dededo Mayor Melissa Savares all drainage in her village were cleared before the typhoon.
Her staff helped to transport some individuals who needed to go to the shelter. Now, they are "basically waiting it out."
Savares said there were some home construction sites that still have two-by-fours and plywood laying outside, and they had been trying to reach the contractors to have them removed.
Matanane said he spent the weekend notifying residents and encouraging anyone living in wood or tin structures to go to storm shelters.
In southern Guam, some residents sought shelter, too.
Huddled around the lit screen of their grandmother's phone, cousins taking shelter Monday morning at Talofofo Elementary School watched their favorite shows and movies to pass the time.
Katherin Garrido, a resident of Talofofo, sat on a sheet she brought from home with a linen blanket on her lap to keep warm and comfortable on the cold floors of the school's cafeteria.
As of 11 a.m. Monday, Garrido was one of 59 village residents who had taken shelter at the Talofofo school.
She said she decided to leave her partially wood-and-tin home for the shelter with several of her young grandchildren and other family members, as she's used to doing upon hearing news of impending typhoons.
Before leaving for the shelter, Garrido's family boarded up the windows of their home, sealed away important documents and secured personal belongings, she said.
Recalling the strength of Typhoon Omar in 1992 – which brought strong winds that shattered her former residence's windows and forced her daughter to take shelter in a closet – Garrido decided not to take her chances this time around.
"As long as I have grandkids around me, I have to be aware that their safety comes first, that they're doing OK," Garrido said.
More than 1,000 residents had sought shelter in public schools.
Northern shelters, meanwhile, filled up through the night as those living in substandard housing packed up and registered at several shelters in the north. According to the Joint Information Center, Astumbo Elementary and F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School had reached maximum capacity and no longer accepted residents.
As of 4 a.m., Machanaonao Elementary School was already at 95 percent capacity. Astumbo Elementary had 464 shelterees of a capacity of 350.
Shelters in central and southern Guam remained open and most did not reach 30 percent capacity.