Cyclone Mekunu intensifies, Salalah to be hardest hit

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High waves break along the shore in the southern city of Salalah as the country prepares for landfall of Cyclone Mekunu. (AFP)
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Men walk on a road flooded after heavy rain and strong winds caused damage in Hadibu as Cyclone Mekunu pounded the Yemeni island of Socotra. (AP)
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Cars driving through a flooded street in the southern city of Salalah as the country prepares for landfall of Cyclone Mekunu. (AFP)
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Cars driving through a flooded street in the southern city of Salalah as the country prepares for landfall of Cyclone Mekunu. (AFP)
Updated 25 May 2018
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Cyclone Mekunu intensifies, Salalah to be hardest hit

JEDDAH: Oman said Friday that Cyclone Mekunu, which wreaked havoc in the Yemeni island of Socotra, has intensified into category 2 as it bore down on the south of the sultanate.
“Latest observations show that tropical Cyclone Mekunu has intensified to category 2,” with high wind speeds, Oman’s Directorate General of Meteorology said on Twitter.
The center said in its latest warning that the eye of Mekunu was expected to hit Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people close to the Yemeni border, at around 1600 local time (1200 GMT).
The impact on the city and Dhofar province was expected to last several hours with wind speeds of 170 kilometers (106 miles) per hour.
Heavy rains and strong winds have already been pummelling Dhofar province and authorities have urged residents to stay indoors.
Five people were killed and at least 40 missing on Socotra on Friday as Cyclone Mekunu pummelled the area then made its way toward the Arabian Peninsula’s southern coast.
The five dead included four Yemenis and one Indian national, while the missing including Yemenis, Indians and Sudanese.
Yemen declared a state of emergency on Thursday for Socotra, after officials said 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.
Socotra Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing.
“We consider them dead,” the governor said.
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 United Arab Emirates arrived just hours after the cyclone receded.
Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jabir, who also serves as Supervisor of Yemen Reconstruction Program and Executive Director of Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO), confirmed in an official statement that “The Saudi Reconstruction Team in Yemen at the Socotra office is working with the local authority to deal with the aftermath of Cyclone Mekunu, open roads and assist those in distress, in anticipation of the arrival of relief aid and shelter, that was hindered today by weather conditions.”
He added: “Saudi Joint Forces planes carrying tens of thousands of tons of relief, shelter and medical supplies from the Kingdom through KSrelief are preparing to head to Socotra to assist as soon as the weather conditions improve.”‏
The officials say heavy rains are now pummeling Yemen’s easternmost province of Al-Mahra, on the border with Oman. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The government declared the island in the northwest Indian Ocean, part of a UNESCO-protected archipelago for its rich biodiversity, a “disaster” zone.
Socotra Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing.
“We consider them dead,” the governor said.
The Yemeni high relief agency met with international humanitarian organizations in Aden late Thursday to discuss the situation, the Saba news agency reported.
They decided to set up 11 relief centers in Socotra to provide shelter for people forced to evacuate their homes.
The meeting also discussed measures to provide aid to residents of three provinces in southeast Yemen expected to be hit by the cyclone.
Omani forecasters warned Salalah and the surrounding area would get at least 200 millimeters (7.87 inches) of rain, over twice the amount of rain this city typically gets in a year. Authorities remained worried about flash flooding in the area’s valleys and potential mudslides down its nearby cloud-shrouded mountains.
Conditions quickly deteriorated in Salalah after sunrise Friday, with winds and rain beginning to pick up. Strong waves smashed into empty tourist beaches.
Across the border in Oman, authorities have placed police and army on alert and closed schools until Monday in preparation for the cyclone.
“Of course, for the citizen there is going to be a sense of fear of the consequences that can happen,” said Brig. Gen. Mohsin bin Ahmed Al-Abri, the commander of Dhofar governorate’s police. “We have been through a few similar cases and there were losses in properties and also in human life as well. But one has to take precautions and work on that basis.”
State-run television said authorities had evacuated hundreds of residents from a small island off Salalah, the town where Oman’s Sultan Qaboos was born.
As torrential rains poured down, local authorities opened schools to shelter those whose homes are at risk. About 600 people, mostly laborers, huddled at the West Salalah School, some sleeping on mattresses on the floors of classrooms, where math and English lesson posters hung on the walls.
Oman’s civil aviation authority announced that Salalah airport would be closed for 24 hours from midnight (2000 GMT Thursday).
Many holidaymakers fled the storm Thursday night before Salalah International Airport closed. The Port of Salalah — a key gateway for the country — also closed, its cranes secured against the pounding rain.
Streets quickly emptied across the city. Standing water covered roads and caused at least one car to hydroplane and flip over.
Later, a municipal worker on a massive loader used its bucket to tear into a road median to drain a flooded street, showing how desperate the situation could become.
Mekunu was expected to weaken to a tropical storm before reaching southeastern Saudi Arabia on Saturday, according to the Kingdom’s meteorological authority.
Powerful cyclones are rare in Oman. Over a roughly 100-year period ending in 1996, only 17 recorded cyclones struck the sultanate on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. In 2007, Cyclone Gonu tore through Oman and later even reached Iran, causing $4 billion in damage in Oman alone and killing over 70 people across the Mideast.
The last hurricane-strength storm to strike within 160 kilometers (100 miles) of Salalah came in May 1959, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s archives. However, that cyclone was categorized as a Category 1 hurricane, meaning it only had winds of up to 152 kph (95 mph).
Mekunu, which means “mullet” in Dhivehi, the language spoken in the Maldives, is on track to potentially be the same strength as a Category 2 hurricane at landfall. It also comes just days after Cyclone Sagar struck Somalia.


Yazidi ‘ex-sex slave’ trapped both in Iraq and in German exile

Ashwaq Hajji
Updated 40 sec ago
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Yazidi ‘ex-sex slave’ trapped both in Iraq and in German exile

  • Life in Iraq is not easy for Ashwaq or for the 3,315 other Yazidis who escaped from the Daesh
  • The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority that was brutally persecuted by the terrorists who despise them as heretics

LALISH: A young Yazidi woman who fled to Germany but returned home to northern Iraq says she cannot escape her Daesh captor who held her as a sex slave for three months.
Ashwaq Hajji, 19, says she ran into the man in a German supermarket in February. Traumatized by the encounter, she returned to Iraq the following month. Like many other Yazidis, she was kidnapped by Daesh when the extremists seized swaths of Iraq in the summer of 2014.
In their ancestral region of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, thousands of Yazidi women were killed or sold off as sex slaves.
The teenager was held from Aug. 3 until Oct. 22 of 2014, when she managed to escape from the home of an Iraqi extremist using the name Abu Humam who had bought her for $100, she told AFP in the Yazidi shrine of Lalish, north of second city Mosul.
The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority that was brutally persecuted by the terrorists who despise them as heretics.
Under a German government program for Iraqi refugees, Ashwaq, her mother and a younger brother were resettled in 2015 in Schwaebisch Gmuend, a town near Stuttgart.
Her refuge in Germany, where she took language lessons, was cut short on Feb. 21 when a man called out her name in a supermarket and started talking to her in German.
“He told me he was Abu Humam. I told him I didn’t know him, and then he started talking to me in Arabic,” she said.
“He told me: ‘Don’t lie, I know very well that you’re Ashwaq’,” she said, adding that he gave her home address and other details of her life in Germany.
After that experience, she immediately phoned the local police, who told her to contact a specialized department.
The judicial police in the Baden-Wuerttemberg region of southwestern Germany said an inquiry was opened on March 13 but that Ashwaq was not present to answer questions.
A spokesman for the German federal prosecutor’s office said that so far the man’s identity could not be confirmed “with certainty.”
Germany says it has opened several investigations over terrorism charges or crimes against humanity involving asylum seekers linked to extremist groups in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.
Ashwaq said she had viewed surveillance videos filmed in the supermarket together with German police and was ready to keep them informed of her whereabouts.
But she said that she was not willing to return to Germany for fear of seeing her captor again.
She is back in northern Iraq with her mother and brother, but living in fear because she says Abu Humam has family in Baghdad.
She wears black in a sign of mourning for five brothers and a sister still missing since their own capture by Daesh.
At a camp for the displaced in nearby Iraqi Kurdistan where he has been resettled, her father, Hajji Hamid, 53, admits returning was not an easy decision, even though the government proclaimed victory over IS at the end of last year.
“When her mother told me that she’d seen that jihadist... I told them to come back because Germany was obviously no longer a safe place for them,” he said.
Life in Iraq is also not easy for Ashwaq or for the 3,315 other Yazidis who escaped from the jihadists. A similar number are still being held or have gone missing, according to official figures.
“All the survivors have volcanos inside them, ready to explode,” warned Sara Samouqi, a psychologist who works with several Yazidis.
“Ashwaq and her family are going through terrible times.”