Wednesday 13 November 2019

Five confirmed dead as powerful cyclone lashes Oman and Yemen

More than 30 people were still missing in Socotra, including Yemeni, Indian and Sudanese nationals.

Cyclone Mekunu in Salalah, Oman (Kamran Jebreili/AP)
Cyclone Mekunu in Salalah, Oman (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

By Jon Gambrell, Associated Press

Cyclone Mekunu has made landfall across the Arabian Peninsula, leaving at least five people dead and more than 30 missing, officials in Oman and Yemen said.

Areas of Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city, lost electricity as the cyclone made drenched the area.

Three people, including a 12-year-old girl, died in Oman, and another two bodies were recovered from the Yemeni island of Socotra, which bore the brunt of the storm, according to local officials in both countries.

More than 30 people were still missing in Socotra, including Yemeni, Indian and Sudanese nationals.

Yemeni officials also reported damage in the country’s far east, along the border with Oman.

Rageh Bakrit, the governor of al-Mahra province, said on his official Twitter account late on Friday that strong winds had blown down houses and taken out communication lines and water services.

India’s Meteorological Department said the storm packed maximum sustained winds of 170-180 kilometres (105-111 miles) per hour with gusts of up to 200 kph (124 mph). It called the cyclone “extremely severe”.

Across Salalah, branches and leaves littered the streets. Several underpasses became standing lakes. Some cars were left abandoned on the road. Electrical workers began trying to repair lines in the city while police and soldiers in 4x4s patrolled the streets.

Many holidaymakers fled the storm on Thursday night before the airport closed. The Port of Salalah — a key gateway for the country — also closed, its cranes secured against the pounding rain.

Omani forecasters warned Salalah and the surrounding area would get at least 200 millimetres (7.87 inches) of rain, over twice the city’s annual downfall.

Authorities remained worried about flash flooding in the area’s valleys and potential mudslides down nearby mountains.

As torrential rains poured down on Friday, authorities opened schools to shelter those whose homes are at risk. About 600 people, mostly labourers, huddled at the West Salalah School, some sleeping on mattresses on the floors of classrooms.

On Socotra, authorities relocated over 230 families to sturdier buildings and other areas, including those more inland and in the island’s mountains, Yemeni security officials said.

Flash floods engulfed Socotra streets, cutting electricity and communication lines. Some humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arrived on the island just hours after the cyclone receded.

Socotra Gov Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing and presumed dead.

Yemen’s self-exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued a statement ordering troops under his command on the island to help citizens, deliver supplies and reopen roads.

PA Media

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