Sat, Jun 09, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Gonu leaves trail of havoc in Muscat

DELUGE IN OMAN Residents of the city known as the `Geneva of the Middle East' spoke of a night of horror as the cyclone caused floodwaters to tear into homes

AGENCIES , MUSCAT

Men wade down a destroyed road as floodwater pours from the edges in the aftermath of Cyclone Gonu in Muscat, Oman, on Thursday. The cyclone killed at least 32 people in Oman, officials said. Gonu has been downgraded to a Category One hurricane and was headed toward Iran yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Muscat has long been renowned as one of the Middle East's prettiest, with a gorgeous mountain backdrop, a smattering of hilltop castles overlooking a sparkling sea, and a proud leader who rigorously tends to his capital city.

But on Thursday, Muscat came unglued. Cyclone Gonu romped through the tidy Omani capital before heading north across the Gulf of Oman and hitting Iran.

The postcard-perfect mountains that are the city's pride became its pain. Torrential rains poured onto the bone-dry peaks and then flowed into canyons and dry riverbeds that channeled the raging water directly into the city.

Bridges collapsed. Buses were piled in the wadis, the normally dry riverbeds that course through the city.

Muscat's lush palm and eucalyptus groves were blown over along with telephone and power lines. Even the normally sparkling blue sea, just off the crescent-shaped Muttrah Corniche, perhaps the Arab world's prettiest, looked like foamy chocolate milk.

Cyclone Gonu left the coast of Oman and swept into a major oil shipping route toward Iran yesterday, after killing at least 32 people.

The Omani official news agency said winds from Gonu, now downgraded to a Category One hurricane, were moderate and sea waves were about 2m high.

In Muscat, residents spoke of a night of horror as turgid floodwaters ripped into their homes, carried off refrigerators and cars, and left their streets gouged by sinkholes and caked in shoals of mud.

Nidhal al-Masharafi, 31, hunkered all night on his rooftop with his wife and six children, with just the cellphone he gripped in his hand.

"The water broke through the walls. It came inside the house. It swept everything out," al-Mashrafi said, limping as he wandered the bank of a flooded wadi.

A kilometer from his home, al-Mashrafi found his Subaru Outback, lying atop a taxi in the rapids of a new roaring river that slashed through his neighborhood.

From his rooftop perch, he said he saw floodwaters sweep 16 cars past, including a Ford Explorer which bobbed by with its headlights on.

"I called the police because I thought someone was still inside," he said.

The Explorer could be seen on Thursday resting upside down, half submerged.

Residents of the hard-hit neighborhood of al-Ghubra wandered along the banks of the temporary river, searching for their cars.

"I woke up today and my car was gone. I can't find it anywhere," said Humaid al-Harthi, 25.

A few drivers desperate or foolhardy enough to drive across found themselves in rushing water up to their cars' grilles. The crossing was the only entrance to an otherwise cut-off beachfront neighborhood.

Al-Harthi and other residents said it would take at least a year to restore the upper-class district.

Few doubt the city will regain its old polish.

Muscat is Oman's showcase capital -- the Geneva of the Middle East -- where the fastidious Sultan Qaboos has decreed that highways be swept daily and laws require homeowners to cover air conditioners with decorative boxes and wash their cars every two weeks.

Those homeowners were hauling soaked bedding and carpets from their concrete villas and piling it in the streets for the bulldozers busy clearing mud and rocks.

The massive cleanup was well under way as the sun popped out in the late afternoon and began drying Muscat off.

Workers with chain saws could be seen clearing downed trees while fleets of tow trucks went to work wrenching waterlogged cars and trucks from riverbeds.

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