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Super typhoon plows through Northern Marianas Islands

November 2, 1997

AGANA, Guam (AP) _ Super Typhoon Keith, packing wind gusts of 220 mph, swept through the Northern Mariana Islands on Sunday night. The extent of damage was not immediately known.

The storm cut off telephone communication with the island chain and its 25,000 residents.

After passing the Marianas islands of Saipan, Rota and Tinian early Monday, the storm was located 170 miles northwest of Guam and traveling at a speed of 15 mph, with wind speeds of 173 mph, the National Weather Service said.

By wielding sustained winds of 180 mph as it passed between Rota and Tinian, Keith earned its designation as a ``super typhoon″ _ a storm with sustained winds of at least 150 mph.

Rota was hit with 60 mph winds with gusts to 85 mph, but no reliable wind data was available from Tinian, which would have taken the brunt of the storm, said Tom Yoshida, meteorologist in charge of the Weather Service’s office on Guam.

Winds at the airport on the capital island of Saipan, located to the north of Tinian, were clocked at between 95 mph and 110 mph, Yoshida said.

The eye of the storm passed 38 miles northeast of Rota and 30 miles south of Tinian, he said.

For the most part, the storm spared Guam, located 1,600 miles east of Manila, Philippines. Keith felled trees and downed utility lines, causing only sporadic power outages, said Ben Reyes, deputy director of Guam Civil Defense.

The storm also kicked up high waves that forced the closure of a stretch of road along the south coast of Guam, Reyes said.

Fearing the worst, more than 1,000 people went to emergency shelters, where they would remain overnight, he said.

Only one storm-related injury was reported in the U.S. territory. A man suffered a dislocated shoulder while trying to put up typhoon shutters on his home.

Doctors at Guam Memorial Hospital had asked women who were at least seven months pregnant to go to the hospital, because pressure changes can trigger labor.

Eighty-two expectant mothers checked into the hospital Sunday, and 16 gave birth, hospital administrator Tyrone Taitano said.

In the hours before the storm passed, stores on Guam ran low on emergency supplies, such as candles, batteries and canned goods. Residents also bought large garbage cans to store fresh water.

The Guam airport canceled inbound and outbound flights, and U.S. military personnel were confined to their quarters.

Update hourly