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  • Writer's picturePaul


Wakey wakey: A bird’s-eye view of Wake Island (NASA/Public domain)

Wake Island is a tiny isolated coral atoll in Micronesia, more than 1,000 miles east of Guam, in the central Pacific Ocean. Just 2½ square miles in size, the island is arguably best known for the Battle of Wake Island, which took place on 8 December 1941 (the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii) and eventually saw the island occupied by Japanese forces.

Ultimately a major component of the Pacific theatre of the Second World War, a number of bunkers and military foxholes were constructed on Wake—which Japan eventually surrendered control of in September 1945. But just seven years later, a threat of an entirely different kind emerged and set its sights firmly on Wake Island: super-typhoon Olive, the most powerful Pacific Ocean storm of the year, developed in mid September and promptly barrelled its way towards the island, bringing with it an immense storm surge and winds in excess of 140mph.

Wake Island was all but destroyed: a staggering 85% of its buildings were razed to the ground, the entire island was deluged with water, and $1.6 million worth of damage was recorded; in modern terms, that’s equivalent to causing $5 of damage to every single square yard of land.

Astonishingly, however, there were no fatalities and only two recorded injuries: both military personnel, one of whom broke a rib and another who wrenched his knee. So how did such a devastating storm lead to absolutely no loss of life?

Well, amazingly the island’s entire population were able to shelter in all those abandoned Second World War bunkers and foxholes, which were sturdy enough to see out of the worst of the storm, and thereby protect all 750 native Wake Islanders from what might otherwise have been an all but fatal storm.

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