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.


Tribe of slain Libya rebel commander protests at eastern oil port

Updated 2 min 40 sec ago
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Tribe of slain Libya rebel commander protests at eastern oil port

  • It was not clear whether oil exports had been affected from the port located in Tobruk
  • A spokesman for port operator AGOCO, part of state oil firm NOC, declined to comment

BENGHAZI: Libyan tribesmen staged a demonstration at the eastern oil port of Hariga on Thursday in protest against the appointment of a government minister, a leading member of the tribe said.
It was not clear whether oil exports had been affected from the port, located in Tobruk near the Egyptian border.
A spokesman for port operator AGOCO, part of state oil firm NOC, declined to comment.
“We are at the port’s gate. No car can enter or leave the port,” a member of the powerful Obeidat tribe told Reuters, asking not to be identified.
He said tribesmen were protesting against a decision by the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli to appoint Ali Essawi as economy minister.
Hariga lies in eastern Libya, run by a rival administration.
Libyan prosecutors had in 2011 named Essawi as the main suspect of the killing of Abdel-Fatah Younes, a former top rebel commander during the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Younes belongs to the Obeidat tribe.
A Libyan court in 2012 had dropped the case against Essawi and other suspects. But he re-emerged into the spotlight when Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez appointed him as economy minister this month.
Khalifa Haftar, a top commander whose troops control the east, this week ordered a new investigation into the killing of Younes. His killing had caused deep rifts in the rebel camp which later took over the oil producing country.
Younes was for years part of Qaddafi’s inner circle.
He defected at the start of the uprising in February 2011 and became the military chief of the rebellion, a move opposed by other rebels who had suffered under the old regime.
The circumstances of his killing remain murky, but it is known that he was slain in July 2011 after rebel leaders summoned him back from the front line to Benghazi, the eastern city and cradle of the uprising.