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FEMA is staging supplies for Guam ahead of Super Typhoon Mawar

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Typhoon Mawar could hit the U.S. territory of Guam on Wednesday. It's set to be the strongest storm to cross the island in more than 60 years. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is staging relief supplies now, and FEMA's associate administrator, Anne Bink, is here to talk about the effort. Welcome.

ANNE BINK: Hi, Ari. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Guam's governor has called this an imminent catastrophe. What would a direct hit mean for the more than 150,000 people who live on Guam?

BINK: Typhoon Mawar is forecast to bring significant threats to Guam. Current projections indicate that the storm could impact Guam at a Category 4 or even Category 5 strength in just a few hours. That is a very strong storm. It's the equivalent, if not stronger, than Hurricane Ian that impacted the western shores of Florida last year.

SHAPIRO: And it's not as simple to evacuate an island like Guam as it is coastal Texas or Florida. And so what is your advice to people on the island as the storm grows nearer?

BINK: My advice is this is an extremely dangerous storm, and everyone should listen to local officials and follow safety guidance as directed. This is a shelter-in-place situation. The territory of Guam and the landscape is that which is mountainous, right? You don't have a lot of the shores that you do in the coastal U.S. It's actually more elevated, typically. So there are locations that are safe, and the governor has urged folks to evacuate from coastal areas that are at risk of storm surge and other threats to move to those more insular areas.

SHAPIRO: Of course, the threats include not only storm surge, but also wind and rain. And when you look at the relief effort, Guam is far out in the Pacific Ocean, some 4,000 miles west of Hawaii. So how does FEMA preset supplies in a situation like this?

BINK: Yes. We've already prestaged not only staff - over 100 staff - but also relief supplies. We have a distribution center in Guam that has over a million liters of water and 700,000 meals. We also have distribution centers in Hawaii that can augment that, should it be necessary. So we prestaged specialized teams, medical professionals, really - power restoration experts - really runs the gamut to ensure that after the storm passes, we can quickly begin to assess and recover from the storm with the government of Guam.

SHAPIRO: President Biden has approved an emergency declaration. What impact does that have on your efforts?

BINK: Yeah. So the president's action to approve an emergency declaration for both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands unlocks federal assistance. It allows for the prepositioning I've talked about and also to implement activities that save lives, protect property and provide funding for evacuation and sheltering activities.

SHAPIRO: When you look at Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, does it matter at all, in terms of the relief effort, whether we are talking about a state, a territory or a different relationship to the federal government?

BINK: That's absolutely correct. And while the landscape is different and some of the factors are different - right? - this is in the far Pacific. So that's why we have a distribution center there. And that's why a regional administrator meets with Pacific leadership of the island leadership every year to make sure that resilience efforts and efforts made to prepare for disasters and be resilient against them are shared. In fact, Guam has mostly concrete infrastructure, including concrete poles - power poles - and that can go a long way in the face of a storm of this magnitude.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last 30 seconds or so, you've worked in disaster recovery for years, and the strength and frequency of storms continues to grow. Is our response growing accordingly?

BINK: So demands have increased in recent years. Climate change has certainly increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. In 2022, there were 18 disasters that cost a billion dollars or more, and that was the third most on record behind 2020 and 2021. So there's no doubt that demands have increased and our work with it. But we're postured to support Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, and we're postured to support all communities in need.

SHAPIRO: That's Anne Bink, associate administrator at FEMA's Office of Response and Recovery. Thank you very much.

BINK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Zamora
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.