The most powerful storm of the year just blew through the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, destroying homes and killing at least one person.
The islands of Tinian and Saipan were the worst hit. Meanwhile, Guam was hit by tropical-storm force winds. Guam is the southernmost island in the Mariana Islands and — while also a U.S. territory — is separate politically from the CNMI.
On Saipan and Tinian, hundreds became homeless literally overnight.
Saipan resident and former U.S. Marine Daniel Kaipat posted a photo of the rubble of his home and wrote that he “lost everything.”
Many people lost their roofs. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 180 mph with gusts at 200 mph, making it the most dangerous storm of the year and the worst in the U.S. since 1935.
The powerful winds downed utility poles and flipped over cars. The electricity and water systems on Saipan and Tinian are down and it’s unclear when they’ll be restored.
The eye of the storm encompassed the entire island of Tinian, home to about 3,000 people, for about 30 minutes. The church in the village of San Jose was severely damaged along with many homes.
The southern half of Saipan was also in the eye of the storm for at least 10 minutes. Esther Muna, the chief executive officer of the only hospital in the commonwealth, posted this video of the lobby of a hotel on the south side of Saipan getting blown out (jump to 0:26).
Muna also wrote that on the first day after Yutu, 133 patients were treated at the hospital. One patient was transferred off-island for tertiary care, two needed surgeries, seven were admitted into the hospital and 40 had reports of lacerations.
Strong typhoons are typical in the CNMI — the last, Typhoon Mangkhut, was just six weeks ago and ravaged the island of Rota — but many residents said this was the first time they had ever feared for their lives.
Many homes in the CNMI are built using concrete to withstand strong typhoons but for some that wasn’t enough.
“My concrete house was shaking and I was fearful of the windows blowing out, even though I have typhoon glass and storm shutters, I hid in the closet,” wrote Roxie Frisby Lamar, a teacher on Saipan, on Facebook. “I know typhoon glass is designed to withstand 140mph winds, not 180mph winds. In the aftermath, I saw broken concrete reinforced with rebar crumbled, I knew then that we are lucky to be alive.”
Schools in the CNMI are closed until further notice. Many sustained serious damage, including Mount Carmel School.
The commuter airport in southern Saipan that handles island-hopping was pummeled by the winds and one tiny plane was in shambles.
Residents are already starting to clean up after the storm but it’s expected to take months.
Leni Leon, a Saipan resident, has been photographing victims of the typhoon and wrote about one man who was sharing coconuts due to the lack of water.
Leon also featured a woman who is pregnant and forced to move in with relatives after her home was destroyed.
More than 1,000 people filled 17 shelters, according to the CNMI Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan. Some immigrants, Leon wrote, have nowhere to go.
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