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Typhoon Smacks Saipan

October 18, 1997

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (AP) _ Super Typhoon Joan packed 115 mph winds as it swept through the Northern Mariana Islands on Saturday, producing widespread damage but no reported injuries.

Just before the typhoon reached the island chain, forecasters reported sustained winds of 185 mph with gusts to 225 mph, making it one of the most powerful ever recorded in the western Pacific Ocean.

``It’s really whipping the trees around. The leaves are starting to go,″ said Dave Ecret, a governor’s office spokesman. ``Right outside my house one of those school bus shelters just disintegrated. The winds just blew it apart.″

More than 900 people remained in emergency shelters as repair crews began restoring electrical power to the island Saturday, Ecret said.

``They got hit pretty solid,″ said Ken Waters, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service on Guam. Various locations on Saipan reported winds ranging from 80 to 115 mph, he said.

The typhoon had sustained winds of 155 mph with gusts to 190 mph as the eye moved westerly Saturday morning about 40 miles north of Saipan, where 60,000 residents stayed in concrete structures to ride out the storm.

Joan continued moving to the northwest at 17 mph out over open ocean, Waters said.

Telephone circuits into Saipan were jammed after the storm passed, but Jon Anderson of radio station KGUM on Guam said he got through to a friend who said there was widespread structural damage and downed power lines.

Electrical power to the island was deliberately shut down at 6:45 a.m., when the winds began to kick up to avoid the danger of live wires being downed and starting fires, Ecret said.

The Northern Marianas, a U.S. commonwealth, are located to the west of the international date line 120 miles north of Guam and 3,300 miles west of Hawaii.

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