Super Typhoon Yutu made a direct hit to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the South Pacific Ocean, on Wednesday, devastating the area and leaving thousands of residents without power and water, CNN reported.
Yutu is the strongest storm on record to hit the island communities of Tinian and Saipan, which are the largest of the Mariana Islands and home to about 55,000 people, and one of the strongest storms to ever hit a U.S. territory. It sustained winds of 174 mph as it strengthened to the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane before hitting the islands, making it one of the planet’s strongest tropical cyclones this year.
Residents of Saipan and Tinian were issued a weather warning by Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Island authorities late Wednesday night, cautioning that storm surges “pose life-threatening risk for those living along the coast.” CNN reported that surges of five to seven feet were recorded for the islands.
The eye of the storm passed directly over Tinian Island, the Weather Channel said, which is home to about 3,000 people.
“We had to hide inside the bathroom because the house felt like it was going to blow apart,” Juanita Mendiola, a Tinian resident, told the Associated Press.“It was literally shaking — a concrete house shaking.”
Saipan resident Lydia Barcinas told CNN her family had to hide out from the storm in their flooded pantry. She posted a video of the damage to her Facebook, showing that the roof of her home had been completely ripped off and trees and power lines had been knocked down.
“My family stayed because we thought it’ll be fine,” Barcinas told CNN. “Now [we are] just trying to find something to eat and drink” and “looking for medicine under the rubble.”
Officials confirmed the first death from the storm on Thursday, a 44-year-old woman found in the village of Chala Kanoa on Saipan Island. The Weather Channel reported she had been seeking shelter in an abandoned building that collapsed during the storm. At least 133 people in Saipan were hospitalized after the storm as well.
The commonwealth’s delegate to the U.S. Congress, Gregorio Kilili Comacho Sablan, said the islands “will need significant help to recover from the storm,” the Weather Channel reported.
According to Sablan, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) crews were on the way “with a full plane of food, water, cots and tarps” that would be able to land as soon as the runways at Saipan’s airport were cleared. He also said that President Donald Trump “issued an emergency declaration ahead of the storm’s arrival.”