Typhoon-hit islanders start to pick up

Winds from Super Typhoon Yutu batter the island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on Thursday.

Many people in a U.S. Pacific territory ravaged by a deadly super typhoon lost everything, but residents say they are resilient and must focus on the long recovery ahead.

The U.S. government is sending supplies to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as residents dig through crumbled houses, smashed cars and fallen utility poles after Super Typhoon Yutu struck Thursday as a Category 5 storm.

"The rebuilding of this island is beginning already as time waits for nobody," Jan Reyes, who lives on the territory's most populated island of Saipan, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Despite the casualties, we the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are resilient people."

Yutu packed maximum sustained winds of 180 mph as it passed over the islands of Tinian and Saipan, the National Weather Service said. By Saturday, power was still out across Saipan, with 50,000 residents, and Tinian, with 3,000 people.

The strongest storm to hit any part of the United States this year overturned cars, crushed small planes, ripped off roofs and killed a woman who took shelter in an abandoned building that collapsed. Others were injured, including three people who needed surgery.

Many homes were destroyed because some families can't afford concrete homes that conform to building codes meant to withstand typhoon winds, said Edwin Propst, a member of the territory's House of Representatives.

"Everything my family and I have bought and added to our home over 13 years laid on the flooded floor as every window in our house shattered," Reyes wrote.

Her family rode out the storm in a hotel room, overturning a bed to create a barricade against the wind, rain and debris. When the worst passed, she said it took half an hour to navigate fallen poles and trees for what would normally be a five-minute drive to their home.

"The foundation of our culture is selflessness and family values, and this is what has always helped us get through hard times," she wrote. "We will always remain hopeful and prepared for the worst. This is our way of life."

People on the islands are used to riding out monster storms, but many said Yutu was the worst they have experienced.

Because of severe weather, people "listen to warnings from local officials, they take shelter when directed to do so, they stock up on supplies in advance of the storm," Gervino said.

The territory's only hospital, in Saipan, said it saw 133 people in its emergency room Thursday, and three patients had severe injuries that needed surgery.

Saipan International Airport reopened with limited service today. A statement posted on the Facebook page of Northern Marianas Gov. Ralph Torres said the airport will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. but will receive only six international flights per day. Inbound flights are restricted to residents and humanitarian aid, the statement said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Saturday that all ports in the Northern Mariana Islands have also reopened.

The commander of Coast Guard Sector Guam, Capt. Christopher Chase, said in a statement that crews were working to assess and restore shipping access to make sure supplies can reach the islands. The Coast Guard is also working with local officials in search and rescue operations.

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, the territory's delegate to Congress, said residents will need major help to recover.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has 220,000 liters of water and 260,000 meals stored on Guam for shipment to the Northern Marianas, a half-hour plane ride away.

FEMA made changes after Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that struck Puerto Rico last year, creating task forces to tackle those needs.

More than 800 people were in shelters across the islands, and space was running out, officials said.

Saipan is a popular tourist destination for visitors from China and South Korea, just a few hours away by plane. Some 650,000 tourists visited in fiscal 2017, according to the Marianas Visitors Authority.

Information for this article was contributed by Caleb Jones of The Associated Press.

A Section on 10/28/2018