HAGATNA, Guam – With sustained winds of 178 mph as its eye passed directly over the tiny U.S. island of Tinian early Thursday, Super Typhoon Yutu was the strongest storm on record to ever hit a U.S. territory, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It was also the second-strongest storm on record to ever hit any part of the U.S., trailing only the 185-mph hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935, according to the Weather Underground.
Tinian is one of the Northern Marinas Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the South Pacific Ocean with a population of 52,000 people. Saipan is the other major island in the commonwealth.
The storm has killed one person, a 44-year-old woman who had tried to take shelter in an abandoned building on Tinian that collapsed, the governor’s office said.
Tinian suffered a direct hit, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon 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.”
“Tinian has been devastated by Typhoon Yutu,” the city’s mayor Joey P. San Nicolas said Thursday. “The homes, main roads have been destroyed. Our critical infrastructure has been compromised. We currently have no power and water. Our ports at this time are inaccessible and several points within the island are inaccessible.”
The island’s “power distribution system is completely destroyed,” San Nicolas said.
Yutu’s trail of destruction may not be over yet as it continues to trek west over the western Pacific Ocean: The monstrous storm still has winds of 161 mph, gusting to 195 mph, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center said. It could plow into Taiwan or the Philippines next week, the center said.
San Nicolas, a former attorney general for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, said he sent out a request for commodities to be brought to Tinian, like drinking water and ready-to-eat meals.
With no running water, Tinian stores have not reopened. He said roads are being cleared of debris, and Tinian’s airport runway is now usable.
Typhoons form in the western Pacific Ocean and are the same type of storm as a hurricane. A “super typhoon” is equivalent to a Category 4 or 5 hurricane.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency disaster declaration on Wednesday for Saipan and Tinian, along with the rest of the Northern Marianas, in anticipation of the typhoon. The commonwealth is 14 hours ahead of Eastern time.
Yutu, which intensified from a tropical storm to a super typhoon in only 30 hours, is tied as the fifth-strongest landfalling storm ever recorded globally, the Weather Underground reported. Ominously, 7 of the 10 strongest landfalls have occurred since 2006.
The storm has also tied Super Typhoon Mangkhut as the strongest storm on Earth this year, NASA said.
On Saipan, Rosalyn Ajoste remembers hearing loud ripping noises and screeching around 1:30 a.m., before her roof and windows blew off, causing water to flood her concrete-and-wood house in the village of Susupe.
“It was terrifying and dangerous,” she said.
Power could be out on Saipan for months.
In a statement, the governor of the Northern Marianas Islands, Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres said the strong wind and rain tested the islands’ spirits.
“Already, we know friends and family who have experienced the worst of these conditions,” he said. “My heart goes out to all who call the (Northern Marianas Islands) home. But what we suffer through together, we will overcome together.”
Three years ago, Typhoon Soudelor slammed Saipan and Tinian. Yutu, a Category 5 super typhoon, was more intense than Soudelor.
“It’s one of the most powerful typhoons I’ve seen in my life,” former Gov. Juan N. Babauta said Thursday morning. “There’s widespread destruction of property, from homes to cars. There’s also destruction of utilities. Power poles were knocked down, blocking main and secondary roads.”
“People are still in a state of shock,” Babauta said. “People are in desperate need of immediate housing, food and other assistance. We heard reports of two babies stuck in a house needing to be rescued, but responders couldn’t immediately get to them, and people with health conditions needing oxygen but nobody to give that to them right away. We hope they got the help they needed.”
Rep. Ed Propst, a member of the commonwealth’s House of Representatives, said his family home’s storm boards flew away, their windows broke, and their table and chairs flew.
He said his house flooded and the bedroom door ripped off its hinges. They all relocated into one bedroom, he said.
“Never experienced any typhoon of this magnitude in my 45 years living here,” Propst said.