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Monster typhoon slams Marianas Islands

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The Northern Marianas Islands are struggling to recover after a particularly devastating storm, even in a region accustomed to experiencing the most numerous and strongest storms on the planet.

Super Typhoon Yutu hit the islands early Thursday with sustained winds of 180 mph and gusts exceeding 200 mph, according to a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The massive storm, equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, passed directly over Tinian, one of the three main islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Pacific territory 3,800 miles west of Hawaii.

Typhoon Yutu. Photo from NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that Super Typhoon Yutu is the strongest storm on record ever to hit the U.S. and is tied for the most powerful storm of 2018, along with Typhoon Mangkhut, which also reached sustained winds of 180 mph as it passed through the region in September.

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, the CNMI’s delegate to the U.S. Congress, reported widespread destruction and said the territory will need significant help to recover from the storm. Official estimates of casualties were not immediately available, but news agencies are reporting that it could take months to restore power and water on the islands.

Tinian Mayor Joey San Nicolas said in a video posted to Facebook that the island has been devastated. “Our critical infrastructure has been compromised, we currently have no power and water.” The island’s ports and other points are inaccessible, San Nicolas said.

The extreme strike occurred with little warning, as the storm strengthened from Category 1 to Category 5 in a day’s time before landfall. Scientists have recently suggested that such dangerous “rapid intensification” events, which also happened with hurricanes Michael and Florence, may become more common as the planet warms and the oceans heat up, providing additional fuel for storms.

Yutu, heading west-northwest toward the northern portion of the Philippines, is reportedly now packing winds of 165 mph — an intensity that it is expected to maintain through Friday. Outlying parts of the Philippines could see the first tropical cyclone warning “as early as Monday morning,” according to its national weather agency. Weather officials in Taiwan are also monitoring the storm. As Yutu nears the Philippines, which has its own naming system, the typhoon will be renamed Rosita.

According to figures released by the Weather Underground website, Yutu was tied with the fifth-highest wind speed of any storm on record as it made landfall. Only a few storms, including 2013′s Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines, have been stronger, and even then not by much. For the United States, just one storm — the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys — is believed to have been more powerful.

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