Yemenis missing at sea as cyclone pounds Socotra

Yemenis missing at sea as cyclone pounds Socotra
A huge storm has devastated the Yemeni island of Socotra, with numbers of missing expected to rise as neighbouring Oman braces for severe destruction.
3 min read
Images of Socotra's residents escaping severe flooding appeared on TV [Getty]

Seventeen people were missing and hundreds of others evacuated from their homes on a Yemeni island on Thursday, after Cyclone Mekunu hit Socotra, causing severe flooding and damage, officials said.

Neighbouring Oman is preparing for landfall on Friday, with national weather experts expecting Mekunu 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. 

Yemen's internationally recognised central government early Thursday declared Socotra a "disaster province" and Mahrous said it 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 ten 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, Fisheries Minister Fahad Kafin told AFP.

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

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 Houthi 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 Abd Rabbo 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 southern Yemen 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 Houthi 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.

Oman next

In neighbouring Oman, authorities announced they were taking "necessary precautions". 

Authorities put the police and army on alert to deal with the strong cyclone.

State-run Oman television said authorities evacuated hundreds of residents from a small island off the southern city of Salalah, capital of Dhofar province.

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

A statement by Oman's Meteorological Directorate 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 will 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).