Super Typhoon Yutu battered the Pacific Ocean’s Northern Mariana Islands with 178 mile (286 kilometers) per hour winds, making it the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory since 1950.

The storm’s eye crossed directly over the island of Tinian, while its outer edge scraped Saipan, meaning both islands felt the brunt of Yutu’s fury. Up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain will fall, with some places getting as much as 8 inches, said Jason Nicholls, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc.

“It is going to do a heck of a lot of damage,” said Phil Klotzbach, a storm researcher at Colorado State University. The Northern Mariana Islands, population 50,000, are about 1,600 miles east of the Philippines and haven’t suffered a direct hit from Category 5 storm since 1950, he said.

Seven super typhoons have wreaked havoc in the western Pacific this year. Yutu is tied for being the most powerful, along with Super Typhoon Manghkut, which killed scores of people in the Philippines before striking near Hong Kong in September.

It’s unclear where Yutu is heading next, forecasters said. It may head toward Taiwan, according to a five-day forecast from the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii. Other models suggest it could veer elsewhere. The storm may also weaken or stall if it encounters other weather systems, Nicholls said.

Topics Catastrophe Natural Disasters