By Carmela Burke, Volunteer, American Red Cross Los Angeles Region
Typhoon Mawar made landfall in Guam on May 24, 2023, as a Category 4 storm becoming the strongest storm to drench the US territory in at least 20 years.
I had recently returned from a 2-week vacation in early May to the Philippines. After learning of the depth of impact and making sure there were no pending personal commitments, the 3-week deployment wheels started spinning as Supertyphoon Mawar churned in the North Pacific. This would be my second flight west to cross over the Pacific Ocean in one month. At the time, I was 1 of 4 from Los Angeles to first join the response out of 490 responders from the continental US, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Micronesia assigned virtually or on the ground to DR 335-23.
As flights to Guam via Hawaii or Japan were getting canceled and airports were closing, coordinating travel was only one of the first challenges. With several unknowns on the horizon, I found it best to merely lug a carry-on and backpack and remain flexible as NHQ coordinated travel on my behalf. Flexibility being one of the key cornerstones of any deployment, I was prepared to leave.
Though off to a seemingly typical start, this was a unique deployment. Typhoon Mawar was my 70th deployment and 3rd “island job.” Each disaster is different. Mawar stood out for me because of the military flight.
On Friday, May 26, 2023, 15 Red Cross staff and volunteers converged at 0600 at a specified airport location in Honolulu. Led by Denise Everhart, division disaster executive for the American Red Cross Pacific Division, we stood in the designated area along with hundreds fellow non-profit and government partner agencies. As the sun rose, we all waited for military flight arrangements to be confirmed, changed, and reconfirmed. Flexibility and patience on this hardship assignment remain crucial. After a leadership meeting with Bob Fenton, FEMA Region IX Administrator, Denise read the manifest that would group us into two Red Cross teams.