The cyclone is expected to make landfall early Saturday near Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people
MUSCAT: Oman said Friday that Cyclone Mekunu, which has wreaked havoc in the Yemeni island of Socotra, has intensified into category 2 as it approaches the southern part 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.
Oman’s early warning centre said that the eye of the cyclone was just 180 kilometres (112 miles) away from Salalah, the main city in Dhofar province.
It expected that Mekunu will make landfall in the early hours of the afternoon.
Several cities in Dhofar were lashed by heavy rain in the early hours of Friday as the centre of the cyclone approached the coast, it added in a statement carried by the official Oman news agency.
Oman on Thursday placed police and army on alert and closed schools until Monday in preparation for the cyclone.
State-run television in Oman said authorities evacuated hundreds of residents from a small island off the southern city of Salalah, capital of Dhofar province.
Oman’s civil aviation authority has announced that Salalah airport would be closed for 24 hours from midnight (2000 GMT Thursday).
Streets empty as cyclone heads to Oman coast
Streets are largely empty in the Omani coastal city of Salalah ahead of Cyclone Mekunu’s expected landfall there this weekend.
Heavy rains and strong winds are already lashing the city. Standing water covered some roads on Friday, causing at least one car to hydroplane and flip over.
There was a sizable police presence on the road, many Royal Oman Police SUVs with chicken wire over the windows. The Port of Salalah has been closed, its cranes secured as rain pounded them.
The cyclone is expected to make landfall early on Saturday near Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people.
Authorities open shelters
Authorities in Oman have opened up local schools in the city of Salalah to shelter those whose homes are at risk as Cyclone Mekunu heads to the shores of Oman.
About 600 people, mostly labourers, gathered on Friday at the city’s West Salalah School as torrential rains poured down. Some slept on mattresses on the floors of classrooms, where math and English lesson posters hung on the walls.
Shahid Kazmi, a worker from Pakistan’s Kashmir region, told The Associated Press that police had moved him and others to the school.
He acknowledged being a bit scared of the storm but said: “Inshallah, we are safe here.”
Cyclone Mekunu to be ‘extremely severe’
SALALAH, Oman: Cyclone Mekunu will be “extremely severe” when it crashes into the Arabian Peninsula this weekend, meteorologists warned Friday, after earlier thrashing the Yemeni island of Socotra. At least 17 people are missing from Socotra, with one Yemeni official describing them as likely dead.
The cyclone is expected to make landfall early Saturday near Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people.
Conditions quickly deteriorated in Salalah after sunrise Friday, with winds and rain beginning to pick up. Strong waves smashed into empty tourist beaches. Many holidaymakers fled the storm Thursday night before Salalah International Airport closed.
India’s Meteorological Department said the storm in the Arabian Sea was packing maximum sustained winds of 160-170 kilometers per hour, with gusts of up to 180 kph.
On Socotra, Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm. The storm sent torrents of rain pouring through homes and streets, leaving residents soaking wet and trying to wade to safety.
He said of the 17 missing: “We consider them dead.”
World Heritage Site
The island is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Socotra has a unique ecosystem and is home to rare plants, snails and reptiles that can be found nowhere else on the planet. It is known for its flower-and-fruit bearing dragon blood tree, which resembles an umbrella and gets its name from the dark red sap it secretes.
Salalah in Oman already began sandbagging low-lying doors and warning residents not to go into valleys for fears of flashing flooding.
Oman sent rescue helicopters to remote villages in its Dhofar governorate to evacuate those who could be impacted by flooding or mudslides. It also evacuated the critically ill from Sultan Qaboos Hospital in Salalah, flying them north to Muscat, the country’s capital.
The port of Salalah said it also had taken precautions and secured cranes ahead of the cyclone.
Seasonal rains are nothing unusual for southern Oman this time of year. While the rest of the Arabian Peninsula bakes in areas where temperatures near 50 degrees Celsius, those in the sleepy port city of Salalah enjoy rainy weather that sees fog and cool air wrap around its lush mountainsides. Temperatures drop down around 25 degrees Celsius during its annual monsoon festival.
Powerful cyclones, however, are rare. Over a roughly 100-year period ending in 1996, only 17 recorded cyclones struck Oman. In 2007, Cyclone Gonu tore through the sultanate 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 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.
A cyclone is the same as a hurricane or a typhoon” their names only change because of their location. Hurricanes are spawned east of the international date line. Typhoons develop west of the line and are known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean and Australia.
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.