Super storm strands 1,800 Koreans on Saipan

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Super storm strands 1,800 Koreans on Saipan

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Korean tourists take shelter in a corridor of a resort in Saipan Friday. [YONHAP]

Super Typhoon Yutu, which flattened parts of Saipan and shut down its main airport, left over 1,800 Korean tourists stranded in the popular tourist destination as of Friday.

The typhoon, equivalent to a category 5 hurricane, slammed Saipan early Thursday with 180 miles per hour winds, one of strongest storms to ever hit the United States or a U.S. territory.

One woman was killed during the storm, which displaced and injured hundreds of others. It caused major infrastructure damage and power and water outages.

There are over 2,000 Korean residents on Saipan, the largest of the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. commonwealth, in addition to an estimated 1,800 tourists currently stranded there as the Saipan International Airport has been shut since Thursday.

One Korean resident was injured, according to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday, while the stranded tourists are facing “inconveniencies” as they await flights back home to resume.

The Korean government on Friday decided to dispatch a military transport plane to Saipan on Saturday in case there were further delays in the airport opening.

Earlier that day, the Foreign Ministry conducted an emergency meeting in Seoul to respond to the typhoon with related agencies including the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Ministry of National Defense.

If a military plane is sent, it will transfer Korean nationals to nearby Guam, where they could be transported by commercial airlines back to Seoul.

The ministry said it could also lease local buses to help the transport of Korean travelers if damaged roads and infrastructure make it difficult for them to get to the airport from their lodgings.

Depending on the need, further Korean military planes may be dispatched to Saipan.

The ministry also plans to dispatch an early response team and will provide necessary support including emergency supplies, medicine and food.

The ministry said that it is monitoring the situation through its consulate representatives and a local Korean association.

Some Korean tourists, in addition to anxiety about when they will be able to leave, have been concerned about the cost of their lodgings in the case of a prolonged stay. Some hotels have been offering discounted room rates and food costs for the stranded guests.

Yutu was headed toward the Philippines as of Friday evening.

The Labor Day hurricane which landed in Florida Keys in 1935 is the only stronger storm on record to have hit the United States or its territories.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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