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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 31) - Residents of Pagan, Alamagan and Agrihan took to underground shelters yesterday as Typhoon Songda’s 120 miles-per-hour winds moved closer to the Northern Marianas.

Saipan and Tinian began experiencing storm conditions late afternoon yesterday due to the typhoon's wide wind field.

Governor Juan N. Babauta yesterday placed the three Northern Islands under typhoon condition one and upgraded his storm declaration for Saipan and Tinian to condition one, which meant that typhoon and storm conditions would be felt on the islands within 12 hours.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the Emergency Management Office said Songda was about 190 miles east-southeast of Alamagan, 205 miles east-southeast of Pagan, and 240 miles southeast of Agrihan. Some 33 persons reside on these islands.

The EMO said the typhoon was about 210 miles east-northeast of Saipan and 220 miles east-northeast of Tinian at this time, with Songda already packing 120 mph winds with higher gusts, while moving west-northwest at a relatively slow pace of 12 miles per hour. The EMO said the typhoon would further intensify.

The EMO advised residents to closely monitor the track of the typhoon. While damaging winds were expected on Saipan and Tinian last night, the EMO said winds would turn to the west-southwest today, although the typhoon was expected to weaken by this time.

Based on yesterday afternoon’s forecast, Songda would pass between Pagan and Alamagan early this morning, bringing to the islands typhoon-force winds of up to 125mph.

Intermittent gusts brought by Songda last night were almost of supertyphoon-strength. A typhoon is considered such when wind strength reaches at least 150mph.

The typhoon gained strength as it moved closer to the islands, with maximum sustained winds increasing from late Monday night’s 85mph. As of 10 p.m. Monday, the typhoon tracked west-northwest.

As of 7 a.m. yesterday, the National Weather Service said Songda was moving westerly at 16mph, threatening to move closer to Saipan and Tinian. At that time, the typhoon wielded 110mph-strong winds. The NWS located the typhoon about 295 miles east-northeast of Saipan, 305 miles east-northeast of Tinian, 305 miles east-southeast of Pagan, 290 miles east-southeast of Alamagan, and 335 miles east-southeast of Agrihan.

By 1 p.m. yesterday, the NWS said the typhoon was moving west-northwest and would continue moving in that direction in the next 24 hours. Songda’s wind strength increased to 120mph while slowing down its forward movement to 12mph.

By this time, the typhoon had moved closer to the islands, with the NWS locating Songda about 235 miles east-northeast of Saipan, 250 miles east-northeast of Tinian, 220 miles east-southeast of Alamagan, 240 miles east-southeast of Pagan, and 270 miles southeast of Agrihan.

Songda, named after a Vietnamese river, comes on the heels of Supertyphoon Chaba, which hit the CNMI directly on August 23. The supertyphoon destroyed hundreds of homes and damage has been estimated at over a million.

September 1, 2004

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