The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 120-126
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Kelly G Marsh-Kautz
Department of History, University of Guam
Natural disasters. Widespread corruption. Fights over land use.Women and men sent to war.A heartfelt effort to save a child's life. A former community member dies in the NASA tragedy. Threat of attack from fatal disease and terrorist organizations. Economic crises. These are some of the events the people of Guam faced during the twelve-month span from July 2002 to June 2003. In the midst of all this, they continued to work; attend school; celebrate weddings, christenings, local and national holidays; and live life one day at a time as they participated in, discussed,and strove to thrive through this last year.
Guam lies in what is commonly referred to as "typhoon alley." While the people of Guam are old hands at weathering tropical storms, surviving two devastating typhoons in one year tested even the toughest veterans. Five days into July of 2002, typhoon Chata'an (which means "rainy day" in Chamorro) struck Guam. US President Bush declared Guam a federal disaster area, freeing money and resources for the disaster-relief effort. Then, before the community had a chance to completely recover and rebuild, the island was struck again—this time by supertyphoon Pongsona (the name of a Korean flower).
More than 3,000 of Guam's community members lost their homes, with parts of buildings and belongings scattered throughout the villages, strewn across lawns, and stuck in trees. Some 700 concrete poles snapped or otherwise needed replacing, and numerous cars were overturned. At the height of the storm, fuel tanks at the Mobil fuel farm near the island's commercial port ignited and burned for five days, cutting off Guam's gasoline supply.
For months, tents serving as temporary shelters dotted the landscape. The land was stripped of vegetation, exposing lanchos (family-owned ranches), neighborhoods, and commercial and military developments normally hidden by the dense island jungle. Again, President Bush declared Guam a federal disaster area. The island swarmed with hundreds of typhoon-relief workers and volunteers, including Federal Emergency Management Assistance officials and other assistance teams.
Pongsona wreaked more financial devastation on Guam than any other typhoon (PDN, 19 Feb 2003). The total estimated government claimable damage of Pongsona thus far is $226 million. The final agreement was that the US federal government would finance 90 percent, with the Government of Guam (GovGuam) shouldering responsibility for the remaining 10 percent.
While Pongsona exacted a heavy toll on the island, many have appreciated the resultant infusion of millions [End Page 120] of typhoon-recovery dollars into the island'seconomy, someof which might be used to upgrade the island's facilities and infrastructure. The typhoons have also given Guam community members a chance to show their strength and support of one another. For months after the typhoons, the "Islandstyle" section of the Pacific Daily News (PDN) displayed pictures of community members, businesses, and organizations that had donated time and money to help their island community recover. The lingering impact of the storms was evident on 1 January 2003, when the newspaper reported that many Islanders' New Year's resolutions focused on desires for hot meals, homes, and fresh starts. While vegetation eventually filled out the jungle, much typhoon-related repair work still remains to be completed.
More than a year of forums and campaigning has brought about other island changes. One message from the primary election was that the majority of Guam's voters were opposed to having a Gutierrez at the helm of the Government of Guam for another four years. First Lady Geraldine "Geri" Gutierrez and US Major General Benigno "Benny" Paulino lost their bid to be the Democrat candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to then Guam Congressional Representative Robert R Underwood and Guam Senator Thomas "Tom" C Ada, by an almost 1:2 ratio (PDN, 9 Sep 2002). This ended Gutierrez's formal campaign for governor, an effort informally initiated years earlier when neon and other red and yellow signs stating simply the name "Geri" were planted around the island...