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Mighty cyclone meets Oman, Yemen; 6 dead, 30 missing

SALALAH, Oman – A cyclone more powerful than any previously recorded in southern Oman, hit the Gulf and neighboring Yemen on Saturday, plundering a city of nearly three years of rainfall in a single day. The storm killed at least six people, while more than 30 continue to be missing, it said.

The cyclone Mekunu caused flash floods that ripped through streets and sank others in Salalah, Oman's third largest city. Strong winds knocked over street lamps and tore roofs away.

Rushing waters from the rain and storm surges usually flooded dry stream beds. The now empty tourist beaches of the holiday destination were littered with debris and foam from the turbulent Arabian Sea.

Three people, including a 1

2-year-old girl, died in Oman, and two more bodies were taken from the Yemeni island of Koh Samui, Socotra. More than 30 people were still missing in Socotra, including Yemeni, Indian and Sudanese nationals.

Yemeni officials also reported damage in the extreme east of the country, along the border with Oman. Maharaj Governor Rageh Bakrit said on Friday on his official Twitter account that strong winds had burnt down homes and destroyed communications and water supplies. He said there are no fatalities in the province.

The Indian weather agency said the storm has hit maximum sustained winds of 170-180 kilometers per hour with gusts of up to 200 km / h. He called the cyclone "extremely strict".

Parts of Salalah, home to some 200,000 people, lost their power when the cyclone landed.

Branches and leaves were scattered on the streets. Several underpasses became standing lakes. Some cars were left on the road. Electrical workers began trying to repair lines in the city while police and soldiers patrolled the streets in SUVs. On the outskirts of the city, near Salalah International Airport, the once dry streambed had become a raging river.

The airport, which is closed since Thursday, will reopen on Sunday, said Oman's Civil Aviation Authority. The port of Salalah – an important gateway for the country and for Qatar in a regional diplomatic quarrel – remained closed, its cranes secured against rain and wind.

Omani forecasters said Salalah and the surrounding area would get at least 200 millimeters (7.87 inches) of rain, twice the annual decline of the city. It actually received 278.2 mm, almost three times its annual rainfall.

The authorities continued to be concerned about flash floods in the valleys of the region and possible mudslides in the surrounding cloud-covered mountains. In nearby Wadi Darbat, the rains of the storm have intensified its famous waterfall.

The police and others continued their rescue efforts as the wind and rain calmed down. Capt. Tarek al-Shanfari, of the Royal Oman Police Department, said there had been at least three casualties in the storm, including the death of a 12-year-old girl who was hit by a door in her head.

An Asian worker died in a flooded valley and an Omani national in a SUV died when his vehicle was swept away, al-Shanfari said. Oman's National Civil Defense Committee announced the fourth death on early Sunday without offering any details.

On Sokotra, authorities have relocated 230 families to more stable buildings and other areas, including those located more inland and on the island's mountains, Yemeni security officials said.

Flash floods flooded the streets of Socotra and extinguished power and communication lines. Some humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arrived on the island a few hours after the cyclone retreat.

Yemeni security officials said the rescuers found two bodies on Socotra while more than 30 people are missing. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to inform reporters.

The island, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, was at the center of a conflict between the United Arab Emirates and the allegedly Yemeni government against Shiite rebels, known as Houthis.

Socotra has a unique ecosystem and is home to plants, snails and reptiles that can not be found anywhere else.

In Oman, Mohammed Omer Baomer warned his neighbors of a demolished stretch of road that has just left his house after he had previously stuck his SUV.

"It was an eerie feeling, as if it was the end of the world," he said of the cyclone. "You can not even go outside, you try to look out the window, and you can not."

But while Mekunu swept over us, the Eye of the Storm gave a brief breather early Saturday morning. In a luxury hotel in Salalah, which had already evacuated its guests, the workers sat down early for "Suhoor," a meal Muslims eat before sunrise during the holy month of fasting Ramadan. They laughed and shared the flashlight in a darkened ballroom plate, the wind of the cyclone a dull roar behind their clatter.


Associated Press writer Fay Abuelgasim of Salalah, Oman, and Ahmed al-Haj of Sana'a, Yemen, contributed to this report.


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