We arrived on Guam in June 1983. That was a good time of year. There were seldom, if any, storms in that season. It was hot and humid, normal tropical weather, but the typhoons were months away. It didn’t take long to discover the intensity of the tropical sun.
Only a few minutes without a shirt or sun screen and a sun burn was evident by the lobster red color of our skin. Those who spent hours in the sun at a lake in New York found twenty minutes sufficient to make their evening miserable. Sunshine was to be carefully metered until the clouds filled the sky and even then it was dangerous.
In the fall the wind and rainy season began and so did the higher possibility for a typhoon. It was our first fall when we experienced this marvelous outpouring of nature. We weren’t sure what to expect. A handbook was provided by the local government. Basically everything needed to be tied down, picked up and otherwise removed from the open. The unseen force of the wind is very powerful. Once you’ve lived through a typhoon, or a hurricane or a tornado you quickly identify with Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit as a wind which comes unseen but with great power.
Watching our island neighbors provided certain clues concerning storms. Over the years we became accustomed to their reactions and gauged our response to a pending storm based on their inherited senses. While the weather service proclaimed disaster early and warned everyone to board up their windows we watched the island residents. When the Chamorros started to bolt plywood to their windows we started to enclose our home as well. It was quite a process.
Each home had a collection of storm boards fitted to the numerous windows around the house. The newer homes had aluminum fittings which were easier and, theoretically, secure. The older plywood boards, which our home sported, were rather bulky to carry around and wedge in the brackets for each window. If the wind started to billow around the neighborhood this became something like hang gliding with a plank on your back. Numerous dance steps could easily be developed by paying careful attention to newbies attempting to put storm boards up when the wind was too high.
With hammer in pocket and boards pulling at my hands, in an attempt to fly free, I began the ritual. It was a right of passage for new arrivals on the island. Many thumbs, fingers and hands were scarred and inflamed during the initial experience.
Each window sported a set of metal brackets for the storm boards. Unfortunately the brackets were larger than the boards. This taxed the imagination with ways to fill the gap between the wood and the bracket. Digging through the clutter of the shed, pieces of scrap wood were gathered as shims to prayerfully keep the boards in place. The trick was to hold the board in place while nailing small pieces of shim to a thin piece of plywood before the next gust of wind ripped the plywood from your hands and flung it across the yard.
With the numerous storms we quickly learned the ins and outs of protecting our home from the pending storm. As many typhoons came close but not quite to the island it was often a practice exercise only. However, there is that first heavy strike of wind which starts the memories flowing for the rest of your life. During the height of one storm we watched a chicken fly down the road . . . backwards!
The might of the wind forcing the massive palm tress to bow in obedience was impressive. Watching cars and trucks bounce up and down, sometimes turned over or moved to a different parking place, was clear evidence this invisible force was something to be reckoned with, carefully, and in respect. This strength was evident driving home after a storm.
A colleague and I were operating the transmitters through as much of one storm as possible. We arrived early, while it was still a moderate wind with rain, and parked in front of the transmitter building. As the storm built to its peak we busied ourselves resetting the transmitters from overloads caused by swaying antennas. The battle turned in favor of the wind about two hours before the end of the shift as winds blew rain through the air chambers into the transmitters.
The transmitters were shut down, air chambers sealed against the horizontal rain and we waited out the storm. It was still raging when the shift ended and we decided to make a daring drive homeward. We were both new to the island and discovered this was a poor decision. Praise the Lord we arrived home safely through the dangers along the twenty minute drive.
Driving back to the site later that day I was amazed at the immense damage to the island. Small wood homes and shacks were destroyed and telephone poles lay over to provide a high tech canopy above the roads. The wire antennas were broken in sections and the transmitters needed some drying and repairs.
Beside the numerous typhoons, Guam is also center to the most earthquakes, worldwide. There are shimmers and shakes everyday. Most go unnoticed but some have a major impact. Within a few months of our arrival there was an earthquake in the night just prior to the arrival of a typhoon. Joel, three years old at the time, came into our room and said with all honesty, “Mommie, its earthquaking and typhooning here. Let’s get out of here!” A few years later he was an old pro, for both natural occurrences, and provided a calming effect on other newcomers to the island.
There is one aspect of typhoons which is difficult for some people to deal with. There is a confined aspect as the storm passes over the island. One fall my mother was visiting for a few days and was the lucky participant in a passing typhoon. Being a bit on the claustrophobic side she was not pleased with the closed house during the 12 hours we waited for the storm to pass. We would often find her peeking through the cracks between the boards to catch a glimpse of the open sky.
Yet, there is beauty in the winds whirling and the swaying of the palm trees. A quick investigation of the fibrous material in the palm tree explains its ability to bend with the wind and why they are always still standing after the storm passes. A particularly large storm passed directly over the island one year. As the winds threatened to implode our home for several hours it became suddenly calm and quiet. Stepping outside and into the street we looked up to witness clear sunny skies. We were in the “eye” of the storm. This lasted about a half hour before the winds began to increase, from the opposite direction, and we were forced back into the house to ride out the backside of the storm.
The after effects of storms were usually more difficult to deal with than the passing winds and rain. For days, sometimes weeks, the approaching storm would dump water onto the island until it could soak up nothing more and the streets and low lands began to flood. Pushing the clouds ahead of the storm and pulling others within its swirls the weather was less than amicable. When the storm passed it took the clouds and rain away.
Within hours of the storm passing the skies were cloudless and the sun shone with a vengeance. Heating the super saturated island the humidity levels rose above the normal 85 percent to almost 100 percent. Since the storm knocked out the power, thus stopping the water pumps, we are left in a sweltering condition with no place for relief. The few offices which had generators and air conditioning become favorite havens to escape from the heat and humidity. Working long hours became a blessing.
The antennas, used to reach the Far East, consisted of wire structures suspended between towers. With counter weights, up to eight tons, the force of God’s wind became was clear as these massive weights bobbed up and down like a fishing float on the river. The first few days after a storm were times for all hands to help with the reconstruction or repair of these life giving antennas. It was dirty, tiring, and hard work.
When weeks later a letter arrived from a new believer who entered into our heavenly family because they heard the first program when the antenna was repaired, it all became more than worth the effort. We need to remind ourselves of the bigger picture and not get bogged down in the immediate hard work.