(AP) — Super Typhoon Yutu crossed over the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands early Thursday as the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane, making it the strongest storm to hit any part of the U.S. this year, the National Weather Service said.

“At its peak, it felt like many trains running constant,” Glen Hunter wrote in a Facebook message to The Associated Press. Hunter lives on Saipan, the largest island in the commonwealth, which is a U.S. territory about 3,800 miles west of Hawaii.

“At its peak, the wind was constant and the sound horrifying,” he said.

In this photo provided by Glen Hunter, damage from Super Typhoon Yutu is shown outside Hunter's home in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Thursday Oct. 25, 2018. As the powerful storm crossed over the island the walls shook in Hunter's concrete home, a tin roof over the garage blew away and howling winds terrified his cats. Maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (290 kph) were recorded around the eye of the storm, which passed over Tinian and Saipan early Thursday local time, the National Weather Service said. (Glen Hunter via AP)

In this photo provided by Glen Hunter, damage from Super Typhoon Yutu is shown outside Hunter’s home in Saipan.

AP

Maximum sustained winds of 180 mph were recorded around the eye of the storm, which passed over Tinian and Saipan early Thursday local time, said Brandon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Tinian suffered a direct hit. Saipan and Tinian will be unrecognizable, Aydlett said, adding that the weather service received reports that Yutu’s catastrophic winds ripped roofs from homes and blew out windows.”Any debris becomes shrapnel and deadly,” he said. Fallen trees could isolate residents, and power and water outages could last weeks, the weather service warned.

Hunter, 45, has lived on Saipan since childhood and is accustomed to strong storms. “We are in typhoon alley,” he wrote, but added this is the worst he has experienced.Power went out the previous afternoon, and Hunter was bracing for months without electricity or running water. All government offices and schools shut down two days ago. A few gas stations ran out of gas by Tuesday evening, he said.

“We knew it was going to be big,” he said, “but wow.”

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the moment the eye of Super Typhoon Yutu passed directly over Tinian Island, one of three main islands of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, producing damaging winds and high surf Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. The National Weather Service in Honolulu says maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (290 kph) were recorded around the eye of the storm, which passed over Tinian island and Saipan early Thursday morning local time. Waves of 25 to 40 feet (6 to 12 meters) are expected around the eye of the storm. (NOAA via AP)

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the moment the eye of Super Typhoon Yutu passed directly over Tinian Island.

AP

The roof flew off the second floor of Del Benson’s Saipan home.

“We didn’t sleep much,” he wrote to the AP in a Facebook message. “I went upstairs and the skylight blew out. Then the roof started to go. We got the kids downstairs.”

Recovery efforts on Saipan and Tinian will be slow, Aydlett said. “This is the worst-case scenario. This is why the building codes in the Marianas are so tough,” he said. “This is going to be the storm which sets the scale for which future storms are compared to.”

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marina Islands’ 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.

“There’s a lot of damage and destruction,” Sablan said. “It’s like a small war just passed through.”

Sablan said the entire island sustained damage, but there are areas that are worse than others. He has not been able to reach officials on the territory’s neighbor islands of Tinian and Rota because phones and electricity are out.

“It’s going to take weeks probably to get electricity back to everybody,” he said.

All ports were closed, and flights into the Northern Marianas were canceled, he wrote.

“The Tinian Medical Center sustained extensive damage. Fortunately no patients were present,” he wrote in a post that also said the Commonwealth Healthcare Center and Rota Medical Center were running on generator power.

Typhoon Yutu’s winds broke the windows at Fariha Omar’s house in Saipan. This photo of the aftermath was taken by her mother.

Courtesy of Fariha Omar

Dean Sensui, vice chair for Hawaii on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, was in Saipan for a council meeting. He hunkered down in his hotel room, where guests were told to remain indoors because winds were still strong Thursday morning.

“From around midnight the wind could be heard whipping by,” he said in a Facebook message. “Down at the restaurant it sounded like a Hollywood soundtrack with the intense rain and howling wind.”

Because he’s in a solid hotel, it wasn’t as scary as living through Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which left the Hawaiian island of Kauai badly damaged, he said. “The fact that we still have Internet access proves how solid their infrastructure is,” he said. “Hawaii and others should study the Marianas to understand how to design and build communication grids that can withstand a storm.”

Fariha Omar, 20, was in the middle of a class in Boston on Wednesday when she got a Facebook message from her family on Saipan that the windows in their home had burst.

When class ended, Omar stayed in her seat and video-chatted with her parents and brother, who were barricaded in a closet.

“Basically all the windows in my house imploded, debris flew into my house, air conditioners were ripped out of the walls,” Omar wrote in a Twitter message. “They got some cuts and scratches trying to find a safe place within the house.”

The eye of the storm passed directly over Saipan and spent as much as half an hour over the island of Tinian which is just south of Saipan and home to about 3,000 people, according to Paul Stanko, senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office Guam.

Stanko told Civil Beat that northern Saipan was in the eye wall — the area of maximum winds just outside the eye of the storm — for three hours, from about 12:20 a.m. to 3:40 a.m. local time.

The winds were so bad that the wind instruments by the airport in southern Saipan were destroyed.

“We’ve got a thermometer and a barometer and that’s it,” Stanko says.

Yutu stretched from Saipan to Guam.

“It was almost as big as the Marianas,” Stanko said. “On the U.S. mainland they would have of course evacuated people but it’s much harder to evacuate people from islands. We just have to lock ourselves in and weather it out.”

Civil Beat’s Anita Hofschneider contributed to this report.

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