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  • Cynthia Henry

Shirley Hubbard recalls fury of Typhoon Karen

Shirley Hubbard has lived through 85 storm seasons, but she says none have compared to the fury of Typhoon Karen, which hit Guam back in 1962.

Shirley and her husband, James, were living on Anderson Air Force Base in northern Guam when the storm hit. It was one of the most destructive events in the island’s history. Newspaper headlines compared with it to World War II.

Ninety-five percent of homes on the island were damaged or destroyed.

Approximately 45,000 people, mostly Guamanians, were left homeless. Eleven Guamanians lost their lives and nearly a hundred others were injured.

Shirley says if it weren’t for their preparedness, there would have been more damage inflicted on the base.

The Air Force flew all but one of the airplanes off the base and instructed families to draw water, board their windows, and put outside belongings away or strap them down.

“We had two children then (Jenita, 4, and Mark, 2). We got down on our knees by their bed and prayed,” Shirley recalled. “Their bedroom was the center of the duplex. The kids got in bed and went to sleep.”

The children slept through the storm, while Shirley and James hunkered down and prayed as the 800-mile wide storm approached the island.

“I mostly remember the howling wind,” she said, which was reported to have been in excess of 200 miles per hour.

The worst of the storm lasted less than an hour, but the people of the island had no idea of its impact until dawn.

“When we woke up the next morning, my son came in and said, ‘Momma, the car’s gone!’” she giggled.

The car was fine but had moved out of its normal parking spot. Damages across the island were estimated at $250 million ($2.24 billion in today’s economy).

“No fatalities occurred on the base because they had prepared so well,” said Shirley.

Shirley discussed the storm while sorting through a box of old newspapers, photo books and mementos. One book, which was authored by a friend of Shirley’s within the communications department, included dozens of photos showing damaged buildings. One included a story of a worker at the Airman’s Club. The worker had requested permission to stay at the club while the typhoon passed. Permission was denied. A photo of the nearly flattened Airman’s Club accompanied the story, which ended with: “Had permission been granted, he most certainly would have been killed.”

The duplex where James and Shirley lived had roof damage, and the office where Shirley worked as a secretary for the Air Force Communications Department was considered a total loss. The front gate to the base had recently been built and was completely blown away during the storm. Similar damage occurred on the neighboring Navy base.

The base was left without electricity and there was limited drinking water.

Generators were only used in critical areas, like the hospital. The residents were mostly in the dark.

“We had just filled our freezer full of food before the storm arrived,” said Shirley.

Her family left the island in 1964. They relocated frequently, as do most military families. The base was still making repairs when they left, but they returned to Guam in the 1970s. Not only were the repairs completed, the island itself was much different.

“It had changed so much. The first time we went over it was like a jungle with orchids and hibiscus. The second time, there were hotels on the beach,” she said.

The last move the couple made was to Azle nearly 25 years ago. They built a house not far from where Shirley resides today at Eagle Crest Villa.

“I remember when we moved to Azle, they were just finishing up the construction,” she said of the senior living community.

“Some places are more fancy-like, but I’m not a fancy person. This is more like a family,” she said.

Shirley is very active within the community. She’s an avid bingo player, but also enjoys crafts, cooking demonstrations, cards, dominoes, chair exercise, and listening to the entertainers who perform at Eagle Crest Villa.

When she’s not with her neighbors, she enjoys reading, history programs on television, and keeping in touch with longtime friends and family on her smartphone.

She was an early adopter of computer technology, which is a bit unusual for her age group; but being a secretary, the modernization of office equipment intrigued her.

“The first computers were as big as this room,” she said, looking from one side of her living room to the other.

Now she can hold all of that power in her hand. She smiled as she clutched her smartphone and said “It’s my life!”

As for her anxiety level during Texas’ storm season, Shirley rarely worries. She hopes she’s seen the worst she’ll ever see back in 1962.

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