17 missing as cyclone pummels Yemen's Socotra island

Yemen's neighbour Oman is preparing for landfall of Cyclone Mekunu on Friday, with national weather experts expecting it to intensify to a category two cyclone from category one.

Published: 24th May 2018 12:44 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th May 2018 09:01 PM   |  A+A-

By AFP

SOCOTRA: Seventeen people were missing and hundreds of others evacuated from their homes Thursday after a cyclone hit Socotra, with Yemen's government declaring the island a "disaster province".

Yemen's neighbour Oman is preparing for landfall of Cyclone Mekunu on Friday, with national weather experts expecting it to intensify to a category two cyclone from category one, after it hit Socotra on Wednesday night.

The missing people had been in two boats that sunk and three vehicles swept away by floods, said Ramzy Mahrous, governor of Socotra, an island paradise 350 kilometres (220 miles) off Yemen in the Arabian Sea. 

Mahrous said Socotra could not handle relief efforts on its own, with the number of missing expected to rise.

"The coastal areas were submerged by floods causing heavy damage to homes," with more than 10 villages in Socotra's south and east cut off, Mahrous told AFP.

Four people on one of the sunken boats were rescued while three of the missing had vehicles swept away by flooding, said Fisheries Minister Fahad Kafin.

Around 150 families were evacuated to government facilities after downpours flooded houses and streets, trapping people in their homes, he told AFP.

Some residents carrying children tried to escape through the flooded streets, an AFP correspondent said.

Authorities called on humanitarian organisations and the Saudi-led military coalition that is battling Huthi rebels in the country to help, according to Yemen's state-run news agency Saba.

"Socotra is a disaster province due to human and material damage at all levels and requires urgent aid," said Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for Yemen's internationally recognised government. 

President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi called Socotra's governor and promised to aid rescue efforts.

Yemeni relief officials called on international aid agencies to "send medical teams urgently" to Socotra and other areas in the south of the country expected to be hit by the cyclone.

Millions of Yemenis are living in dire conditions as a result of a long-running civil conflict, which since 2015 has pitted a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels. 

But Socotra has been spared involvement in the violence, which has claimed nearly 10,000 lives since March 2015 and triggered what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

In November 2015, Socotra and south Yemen were hit by cyclone Chapala which injured more than 200 people.

- Bracing for landfall in Oman -

In neighbouring Oman, authorities announced they were taking "necessary precautions". The police and army have been put on alert to deal with the strong 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 Salalah airport would be closed for 24 hours from midnight (2000 GMT Thursday), while the education ministry said schools in Dhofar would be shut until after Monday.

Authorities inspected dams in Dhofar, to ensure their capacity to withstand the expected heavy rains.

Provincial health authorities decided to evacuate the main public hospital and move patients to other hospitals to ensure the facility can cope with cyclone victims.

A statement by Oman's Meteorological Directorate on Thursday said weather maps show the cyclone intensifying to category two before making land.

It expects the centre of the cyclone to hit the coasts of Dhofar and Central provinces, some 1,000 kilometres (just over 620 miles) south of the capital Muscat.

It predicted winds would reach nearly 150 kilometres per hour in some areas.

In 2007, Cyclone Gonu tore through Oman, killing at least 49 people and causing damage estimated at $3.9 billion (3.3 billion euros).

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