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'Like a Small War Just Passed Through': Super Typhoon Yutu Leaves US Islands in Pacific 'Mangled'

"We really need help," said one local official. "Our island has been flattened. It's one of the worst typhoons we've seen in a very, very long time."

Yutu

Super Typhoon Yutu, comparable to a Category 5 hurricane, has devastated the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth. (Photo: Haidee Eugenio/Twitter)

As climate experts around the world warn how anthropogenic global warming will continue to make extreme weather worse, the "catastrophic" Super Typhoon Yutu has left the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean, "mangled," as one local official described the devastation.

"There's a lot of damage and destruction. It's like a small war just passed through."
—Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

The powerful storm struck overnight, with the eye of the storm passing over the island Tinian around 2 a.m. local time on Thursday, and brought with it 20-foot waves and 180mph winds—meaning the typhoon was comparable to a Category 5 hurricane. At least one person was killed.

"Tinian has been devastated by Typhoon Yutu," Mayor Joey P. San Nicolas told USA Today. "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."

San Nicolas added that the island's "power distribution system is completely destroyed."

"There's a lot of damage and destruction," said Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, the commonwealth's non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress. "It's like a small war just passed through."

Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres has requested immediate humanitarian aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, in the form of "food, water, cots, toilet kits, tarps, and temporary shelter resources," according to a statement from the governor's office that Sablan posted to Facebook.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, in a tweet, called on Congress to ensure that the agency provides adequate relief to the islands—especially given that FEMA, and the Trump administration more broadly, failed to do so after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico last year.

Edwin K. Propst, a representative in the commonwealth's Legislature, spent a sleepless night at home with his family on Saipan, according to the New York Times. "Last night, it was like a freight train and a 747 were racing, and you're right in between them," he told the newspaper on Thursday.

After the typhoon passed, Propst visited "several constituents who lost it all... Their homes, their valuables, their prized possessions." He doesn't expect electricity to return to the territory for several months. "We really need help," he said. "Our island has been flattened. It's one of the worst typhoons we've seen in a very, very long time."

The super typhoon was the strongest storm to strike U.S. soil since 1935, and the fifth most powerful storm ever recorded, according to Weather Underground. Seven of the world's top 10 have occurred in just the past 12 years.

Beyond its devastating wind speeds, this storm is also notable because of the rate at which it became so powerful. As Vox explained:

Yutu very quickly intensified, transforming from a tropical storm to a massive dangerous typhoon in just two days. Atmospheric scientists suspect that in a warming world, rapid intensification of storms will become more common, fueled by increased sea temperatures.

Rapid intensification is very dangerous, because it can catch coastal communities off guard. Recall Hurricane Michael, which devastated Florida's panhandle, also rapidly intensified from a Category 2 to a Category 5 in a day. Hurricane Willa, which impacted Mexico this week, also rapidly intensified from 40 mph winds to 160 mph winds in just two days. (Overall, forecasting hurricane intensity is hard, and scientists don't perfectly understand the mechanisms that lead to rapid intensification.) These rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones may be a sign of the world to come.

After pummeling the Northern Mariana Islands, Yutu charged across the Pacific toward the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan.

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