It was likely a restless night for everyone in the northern Mariana Islands as Super Typhoon Yutu crashed through the area with sustained winds of more than 165 mph, and gusts of 200 mph. The monster storm arrived in the middle of the night, around 2 a.m. Thursday local time (noon Eastern on Wednesday in the U.S.), blowing roofs off homes and businesses, knocking out power and phone service, and flooding neighborhoods with massive storm surges.
Yutu is one of the strongest storms on record worldwide as far as wind speed at landfall, and for the United States, just one storm is believed to have been stronger – the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane that hit the Florida Keys
The northern Mariana Islands, officially called the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), is a chain of 15 islands in the western Pacific Ocean. It’s about 1,600 miles east of the Philippines, 3,800 miles west of Hawaii, and it’s a U.S. territory about 135 miles north of Guam, also part of the U.S. The total population of the CNMI is around 54,000 based on the 2010 census, and the most significant damage from Yutu was on the islands of Tinian and Saipan.
In Saipan, roadways were reportedly littered with downed power poles and tree branches. Parked cars were smashed by debris, some overturned by the powerful winds and buildings were demolished. If it wasn’t made of concrete, it’s probably gone. This is what Jose Mafnas said. He’s a resident of Saipan whose roof was torn off his home.
“We heard the tin fly out. It got stripped. Water was coming in through the wooden ceiling, and then eventually the whole ceiling just collapsed down to the floor,” the 29-year-old attorney told The Washington Post in a phone interview, describing the moment the storm took his roof. “My house and my neighbors’ houses are pretty much destroyed….there’s just tin roofing all over the place.”
Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, the CNMI’s delegate to U.S. Congress, said the territory will need significant help to recover from the storm, which he said injured several people.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Saipan, Sablan said he has heard reports of injuries and that people are waiting at the island’s hospital to be treated. He could not provide further details or official estimates of casualties. Saipan has a population of around 48,000.
On the smaller next-door island of Tinian, population 3,100, several areas are inaccessible, and heavy machinery has been deployed to clear debris from roads so first responders can reach people cut off by the storm.
“Tinian has been devastated by Typhoon Yutu,” Mayor of Tinian and Aguigan, Joey Patrick San Nicolas, said in a video posted to Facebook. “Many homes have been destroyed, our critical infrastructure has been compromised. We currently have no power and water at this time.” The lights in his office were being run off a generator.
The full extent of the damage has yet to be determined and it will take a long time to clean up. President Trump issued a disaster declaration in the Marianas before the storm made landfall. The Pacific Daily News reported that more than 100 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel, who had been on Guam because of Typhoon Mangkhut in September, have arrived in the CNMI to help get the clean up and recovery process started, and search for anyone who might be trapped under debris.
Yutu will move through the open waters of the western Pacific for several days. The latest forecast from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) has the storm making possible landfall in eastern Asia by the middle of next week, anywhere from the northern Philippines to Taiwan to the Ryukyu islands of southern Japan.