Cyclone Mekunu heads for popular Omani resort after pummeling UNESCO-protected Socotra island

This May, 25 2018 UAE National Center of Meteorology satellite photo shows Cyclone Mekunu heading east.
Updated 25 May 2018
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Cyclone Mekunu heads for popular Omani resort after pummeling UNESCO-protected Socotra island

  • Cyclone Mekunu hit the Yemeni island of Socotra Wednesday night, causing severe flooding and damage to houses
  • Six boats lost, at least 11 people missing as cyclone Mekunu heads towards Oman

DUBAI: Oman’s popular tourist destination Salalah could be pounded by winds of up to 167 kilometers per hour if Cyclone Mekunu continues on its current path, a weather expert has told Arab News.

The cyclone – which has already pummeled Yemen’s UNESCO-protected Socotra island – has intensified to category two with winds reaching speeds of up to 170kph.

Yemen’s meteorology center warned on Friday that the cyclone “will sweep the eastern coast in the coming hours.”

Meanwhile Oman’s Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA) issued a statement on Friday morning stating that the cyclone was around 150km away from the southern city of Salalah. They also urged people to take “strict precautions” and to stay away from the coast.

Strong gale winds and heavy rainfall are expected to hit the costal areas of Dhofar on Friday the statement read, with warnings of flooding.

Salalah Port has been evacuated and will remain closed for the next 72 hours. While maximum wave height has been predicted to go as high as 12 meters with expected rising sea level.

Director of Meteology at the UAE weather center, Mohamad Al-Ebri, told Arab News on Friday that the cyclone is expected to reach the southern coast of Oman within the next 12 hours, however it is possible that by then the cyclone catagory would have gone down to level one again.

Authorities annouced that Salalah International Airport will remain closed for an additional 24 hours on Friday due to the severe weather conditions caused by the cyclone. 

‘Disaster area’

Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes after the Cyclone hit the Yemeni island of Socotra on Wednesday night, causing severe flooding and damage to houses, officials said.

The governement declared the island a “disaster area”, calling for urgent assistance to those affected by the floods.

There were also reports of six boats which sank – four at sea and two in the port – as the cyclone passed.

Officials say preliminary figures show 40 people — among them Yemeni, Indian and Sudanese nationals — are missing after Cyclone Mekunu battered the island.

The officials said on Friday that over 230 families had been relocated to shelter in sturdier buildings and other areas, including those more inland and in the island’s mountains.

They say floods swept Socotra streets, washed away thousands of animals and cut electricity and communication lines. Some humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE arrived just hours after the cyclone receded.

Mohammed Saeed Hameed Assistant of the Under Secretary of the National Center of Meteorology of Yemen (NCMY), told Arab News there had been a number of warnings sent out in the last week.But he said not everyone had been aware of the cyclone as it approached.

“We have notified people, however the problem is the information does not always reach everyone, like those who were out at sea…. Two boats have sunk and 11 people are missing,” Hameed told Arab News.


“There is a lot of false information being shared on social media,” Hameed warned. “People must get the correct information from officials such as ourselves.” 

He said already the northeast and east sections of Socotra was the worst affected. 

He said they expected the storm to reach the coastal cities of Yemen in Mahrah, Hadramaut and then on towards Salalah. 

“We urge local officials in coastal towns to warn people of the cyclone. They must alert schools, mosques, hospitals and local community centers.” 

Oman prepares for the worst, hopes for the best

In neighboring Oman, authorities announced through the official news agency they were taking “necessary precautions” in case the cyclone hits the Gulf sultanate.

Rainfall had already been reported on Thursday afternoon in the province of Dhofar, southern Oman.

 

 James Hewitson, general manager of the five-star hotel Al-Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, told Arab News they were expecting the situation to worsen over the coming days.

“The wind has picked up since this morning.”

He said the hotel staff were preparing for the worst outcome, ensuring there was enough fuel to power the generators, should the main electricity supply be cut.

“We have taken all precautions in terms of securing all areas of the building to keep our guests safe,” Hewitson explained.

He said the hotel was well stocked for food and water and that at least one of the restaurants would remain open.

“We have about 50 guests staying with us at the moment,” Hewitson told Arab News. “Some are leaving tonight, some have chosen to leave and we are offering to compensate them with our sister hotels across Oman”

“At the end of today I expect I will have something between 40 to 50 guests staying… We have 250 staff members.” 

He explained that representatives from the Ministry of Tourism had visited in the morning.

“We have already taken down our outdoors furniture, and anything that is not bolted down has been put away so that the winds don’t blow them into anyone and hurt people like glass tables or umbrellas.” 

And he added that Muscat civil defense had sent a team to support in Salalah.

“We have taken all precautions in terms of securing all areas of the building to keep our guests safe.”

An image grab taken from an AFPTV video shows people walking through flood water as they evacuate a flooded area during a cyclone in the Yemeni island of Socotra.

“Calm before the storm”
People were advised to avoid going out to sea following warnings off Oman’s southern and south coast of rough conditions with waves reaching heights of between five to eight meters.

Speaking to Arab News from Salalah, event organizer Abdulaziz Ahmed Yousuf Al-Amri said people were preparing for the worst.

“There are some parts of Salalah that have heavy rain… The weather is okay at the moment - but it feels like this is the calm before the storm.”

“We are praying that it will not be bad and will pass without any major impact.”

“But everyone is worried about what might happen, so they are getting ready,” Al-Amri added.“They are stocking up on water and food, just in case something bad does happen… They are putting gas in their cars.”

(Additional reporting by Peter Harrison, Rommer M. Balaba and AP)

FASTFACTS

Rare, but it's happened before

In June 2016, a cyclone codenamed ‘02A’ developed in the Arabian Sea with winds reaching speeds of up to 35 knots – that’s 62 kilometers per hour. It was initially feared to hit Oman. The cyclone, which is rare in the region, eventually weakened to a tropical depression with maximum wind speeds dropping to 30 knots before dissipating in the Arabian Sea.


Utrecht attack: The Erdogan connection?

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party during a rally in Antalya, Turkey, on March 17, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Utrecht attack: The Erdogan connection?

  • Saturday, 4 p.m.: Turkish president uses footage of Christchurch massacre to inflame election supporters
  • Monday, 11 a.m: Turkish gunman in Netherlands shoots three people dead in rampage on tram

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heavily criticized on Monday for using the New Zealand mosque terrorist’s video footage to inflame his supporters at election rallies.

After Erdogan spoke, a Turkish gunman in the Netherlands shot three people dead on a tram. Gokmen Tanis, 37, was arrested on Monday night after an eight-hour manhunt in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Police said initially the incident was a terrorist attack, but they have not ruled out a family dispute.

The Turkish leader used the video footage, filmed by Brenton Tarrant as he killed 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch on Friday, at a series of election rallies the following day. He said Tarrant’s manifesto was to keep Turks from Europe.

As the footage of Friday’s attack played on a screen, Erdogan said: “What does it say? That we shouldn’t go west of the Bosphorus, meaning Europe. Otherwise, he would come to Istanbul, kill us all, drive us out of our land.”

Erdogan’s use of the video footage, which social media companies have been trying to block from their sites, was condemned in both New Zealand and Turkey. New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters raised the issue on a visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

 

“Anything of that nature that misrepresents this country … imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair,” Peters said.

“We had a long dialogue on the need for any other country, or Turkey for that matter, to ensure that our country, New Zealand, was not misrepresented.”

Turkey’s main opposition CHP party spokesman Faik Oztrak, said: “Is it worth showing this bloody massacre in order to gain a few more votes?”

In Utrecht, the man arrested for shooting dead three people on a tram had been detained previously on suspicion of being connected to Daesh, after he went to Chechnya to fight.

Gokmen Tanis, 37, is from Turkey’s central Yozgat province, the scene of several anti-Daesh operations in recent years. He has lived in the Netherlands since 1993.

Tanis was known to police for both minor and major crimes, including a shooting in 2013.

Suspect Gokmen Tanis is from Turkey’s Yozgat province, the scene of several anti-Daesh operations in recent years. AFP

The shooting took place in Kanaleneiland, a quiet residential district on the outskirts of Utrecht with a large immigrant population.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks immediately after the incident. 

“Our country has today been shocked by an attack in Utrecht. A terrorist motive cannot be excluded,” he said.

Dutch police issued an image of Tanis and warned the public not to approach him. 

“It’s frightening that something like this can happen so close to home,” said Omar Rahhou, whose parents lived on a street cordoned off by police. “These things normally happen far away but this brings it very close, awful.”