Cyclone Gonu - the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane - reached Oman's coast Wednesday 6 June with fierce winds and torrential rains, forcing thousands from their homes and shutting down oil installations. Even with the weaker wind speeds, Gonu is believed to be the strongest cyclone to threaten the Arabian Peninsula since record-keeping started in 1945. The cyclone initially generated winds of 160mph (260km/h) and by Thursday afternoon, the storm sustained winds of up to 67 kph (41 mph), less than half its strength of 153 kph (95 mph) just 24 hours earlier, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The storm, which reached the equivalent of a maximum-force Category Five hurricane on Tuesday, has been downgraded to a Category One hurricane and on Thursday 7 June to a Tropical storm.
At least 12 deaths were reported in Oman, including members of police rescue squads, and others were reported missing, according to the Oman Royal Police. In Muscat, the cyclone resulted in abundant rainfall and howling winds. Muscat's mountain backdrop added to the havoc. The torrential rains that poured onto the bone-dry peaks flowed into canyons and dry riverbeds channeling water directly to the city.
Electricity went out in Muscat on Wednesday, and streets and some buildings were flooded. The Health Ministry informed that rescue workers had trouble reaching affected areas. Authorities used text messages to warn people away from low-lying areas. According to the Omani Minister of Social Development, more than 20,000 people were evacuated and housed in government-provided dwellings, stocked with medicine and supplies. Another two islands were completely evacuated. There were reports of people trapped in homes in low-lying areas of the capital. Other beachfront residents of the city were leaving their homes, all threatened by rising tides and large waves pushed by the approaching storm.
The storm, however, caused little damage to Oman's oil fields. Tankers were prevented from sailing from Omani ports, effectively shutting down oil exports, according to the Ministry of Oil and Gas. Authorities also closed all operations at the port of Sohar and Qabus in Muscat and evacuated 11,000 workers. Sohar's oil refinery and petrochemical plant remained running at very low levels, with authorities considering a total shutdown on Wednesday.
Stock exchange as well as private and public institutions are closed until Saturday, while national carrier Oman Air had halted all flights. Flights in and out of Oman's Seeb International Airport were canceled. Flights en route to Muscat were diverted to other airports in the region.
Oman's eastern provinces were cut off, with heavy rains making the roads unusable and communication lines severed. The potential for flash flooding was high in Oman and in neighboring countries like the United Arab Emirates, as rain washes down from mountains into the desert wadis, or dry riverbeds that cut through the desert. There is a potential threat of landslides and mud slides when the normally arid mountains get lashed with rain.
Authorities declared a State of emergency in Oman's Masirah Island, first hit by the storm Tuesday. Troops and police were mobilized to help provide shelter and medical services.
Oil prices rose amid forecasts that Gonu is the strongest storm to threaten the Arabian Peninsula in 60 years. Analysts suggest that even if only some of the tankers are delayed, that could reduce the supply of oil and increase prices. However, the storm shouldn't have a major impact on prices. Shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, which carries up to 40% of world oil supplies, has not been disrupted.
Over 4,000 trained civil defense personnel were deployed in affected areas. Schools prepared to become safe heavens for those who had to flee their houses equipped with food, beddings and other necessary requirement. Assistance was offered to the Omani government by the Gulf Cooperation Countries members, other countries and international organizations including UNICEF. The Government of Oman thanked for the offer and said its own national resources are adequate for the time being. Other international partners were requested to be on standby.
IMPACT ON THE GULF AND SOUTH ASIA
To the north, the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates suspended all refueling and ship-to-ship supply operations the world's third-largest shipping fuel center. A few ships were sailing through the nearby Strait of Hormuz despite 4- to 6-foot swells and strong winds. Saudi Arabia did not expect the storm to affect its oil-producing regions, which lie well to the west of the generally northward moving storm. Saudi King Abdullah offered Oman help in dealing with any problems caused by the storm according to the official Spa news agency.
The port city of Karachi in Pakistan is likely to be hit by the cyclone. Fishermen in the southwest were told to stay ashore for the next 24 hours. Rough seas have already damaged dozens of fishing boats in the southwestern Baluchistan province.
The cyclone has carried on north-west, gradually weakening as it approached the Iranian southern coastal provinces of Hormorzgan and Sistan Baluchestan, which lie only some 100 kilometres (60 miles) across the Gulf from northern Oman. The Organization of Weather of Iran stated that there has been 3 killed and 9 injured. Some 11 cities and ports in Iran's southern provinces have been hit by GONU. Authorities evacuated hundreds of people living in the port city of Chabahr on the coast of the Sea of Oman. According to the Iranian state television, floods caused by the heavy rainfall cut off some major roads in southeastern Iran. Subsequent to the declaration of 'extraordinary situation' in Chabahar, the Governor of Chabahar informed that residents living up to one kilometer off the sea coast, as well as all offices and the medical staff of the Imam Ali hospital have been evacuated and moved to a safe place. The staff of Imam Ali Hospital has set up a temporary medical emergency camp for any required treatment.
Outer winds from the storm as fast as 220 kph (137 mph) lashed the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, capital of Homorzgan province, shattering windows, toppling billboards and trees. Gonu reached Qishm Island and caused some damages. Electricity and telephone lines were cut off. As a result of Gonu, in Zahedan province, to the north of Sistan Baluchestan, around 40,000 people have been evacuated to higher areas. There has been more that 120 mm of rain in a day alone, resulting in flooding. Sea level has risen considerably. According to Iran's state broadcasting company, some small villages in Sistan Baluchistan province, on the Gulf of Oman, were still encircled by floods and authorities used helicopters to drop emergency supplies. It is expected that Gonu will reach South Khorasan, Kerman on Friday. It will end in Iran by Friday early evening.
According to Iranian officials, the cyclone was unlikely to threaten the country's oil platforms and installations in the Gulf because they are located far from its path. However, authorities have prepared for any possible difficulty..
The Government of Iran, the National Disaster Task Force and the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) are fully mobilized and held an emergency meeting with the participation of the authorities of Ministries of Transportation, Power, Oil, and Revolutionary Guard in the affected provinces. Necessary coordination mechanisms were made Radio and TV broadcasted programmes to alert inhabitants residing in south and south eastern provinces to be prepared for evacuation from coastlines of Oman and Persian Gulfs and rivers riparian. The Iranian Red Crescent Society dispatched equipment and relief workers from auxiliary provinces and determined places for emergency sheltering. Assessments will be carried out by the authorities as soon as the condition allows.
For both countries, there has been no request for international assistance and the situation is well under control, as a result of good early warning and preparedness mechanisms.
OCHA Iran has been in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Ministry of Interior in Tehran, and UNICEF and UNHCR have been in touch with local authorities in Sistan-Baluchistan and stand ready to assist. UNHCR has distributed some non-food and food items including to Afghan refugees in the Zahedan area.
The Ministry of Interior and the Iranian Red Crescent Society are currently assisting affected population and there is no need for more assistance. The National Disaster Taskforce is distributing bread and water among affected population. Those residing in the coastal areas have left their houses and gone to higher places. However those living in big cities are returning. All executive branches of the government are on call and stand ready to assist the population. UN agencies on the ground continue to monitor the situation closely and will remain on stand-by to respond until the week end.