Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Powerful cyclone pummels Oman, heads toward Iran

AP , MUSCAT

A powerful cyclone lashed Oman's coast and capital with rare heavy rains and wind yesterday, after thousands of people fled low-lying areas.

The strongest recorded storm to hit the Arabian peninsula was moving next toward southern Iran, but was weakening and was expected to skirt the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

No deaths had been reported by midmorning yesterday across Oman or its capital, Muscat, where rains were heavy and visibility was near-zero at midmorning. Rains had subsided slightly earlier yesterday but had intensified again by midmorning and were expected to remain strong through midafternoon, as the heaviest part of the storm moved closer to Muscat.

Electricity was out in some parts of the city and many roads were closed, but Omani officials said most of the country's oilfields, to the northwest of the capital, were still operating.

In Iran, authorities evacuated hundreds of people living in the port city of Chabahr on the coast of the Sea of Oman, believed to be next in the cyclone's path.

The storm had weakened considerably since Tuesday. Maximum sustained winds of about 145kph were reported with gusts to nearly 167kph, regional weather services said.

A tracking map posted on the Web site of the US military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center predicted the center of the storm would skirt the capital Muscat after 1200 GMT yesterday.

Blogger Vijayakumar Narayanan said in a telephone interview that many city streets were flooded and that visibility was near-zero in Muscat at midmorning yesterday. At 5:50am, he wrote in his blog: "We have noticed rains have subsided considerably ... Some of the wadis have started flooding, causing roadblocks." But at 9am, he said rains had again become strong in the city.

Narayanan said the storm has alarmed many Omanis, unaccustomed to cyclones.

Oman's eastern provinces were cut off, with heavy rains making the roads unusable and communication lines severed.

"We have no communication with them, nothing," said a senior police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Parts of Muscat had no electricity, government official Sheik Mohamed bin Saif said.

Cyclone Gonu, which had been churning northwest through the Indian Ocean, had earlier reached the Omani coastal towns of Sur and Ra's al-Hadd.

It was expected to skirt the region's biggest oil installations but could disrupt shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, causing a spike in prices, oil analysts said.

"If the storm hits Iran, it's a much bigger story than Oman, given how much bigger an oil producer Iran is," said Antoine Haff of FIMAT USA, a brokerage unit of Societe Generale. "At a minimum, it's likely to affect tanker traffic.

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