Reuters: Cyclone Gonu waned into a storm as it passed into a major oil shipping route toward Iran on Thursday, but killed 28 people and left a trail of destruction that halted Oman’s oil and gas exports for a third day. By Lin Noueihed
DUBAI, June 7 (Reuters) – Cyclone Gonu waned into a storm as it passed into a major oil shipping route toward Iran on Thursday, but killed 28 people and left a trail of destruction that halted Oman’s oil and gas exports for a third day.
Gonu, which peaked as a maximum-force Category Five hurricane on Tuesday and faded to a Category One hurricane on Wednesday is now an ordinary tropical storm, experts said.
The storm’s maximum sustained wind speed is now about 45 miles per hour, the U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said, and it was likely to keep dissipating.
“As far as Oman is concerned it is over. Cyclone Gonu passed into the Gulf of Oman and is heading toward Iran but it is no longer a tropical cyclone,” said Ahmad al-Harthi, head of Oman’s meteorological department. “It caused a lot of havoc in terms of high seas, rain, winds and floods in combination.”
The official Oman News Agency said 25 people were confirmed killed by the storm, which turned the streets of the capital Muscat into rivers, flipping over cars, uprooting trees and severing electricity and phone lines. There were 26 people missing.
Three people were killed in southern Iran due to the storm, while those living within 300 metres of the coast in Hormozgan province had been evacuated, Iran state television said.
State media said roads and houses in Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan had been damaged and many coastal areas were cut off by flooding.
“All governmental offices are on alert and rescue teams have been dispatched to various parts of the province,” Mohammad Akbar Chakerzehi, governor of Nikshahr in Sistan-Baluchesten province told the Students News agency ISNA.
“Connections between over 500 villages and Nikshahr city have been cut and many houses in villages are badly damaged.”
DISRUPTION TO OIL
The storm had raised fears of a disruption to exports from the Middle East, which pumps over a quarter of the world’s oil, pushing prices to around $71 a barrel.
Mina al Fahal, the only terminal for Oman’s 650,000 barrels per day crude exports, remained closed for a third day and the main liquefied natural gas terminal at Sur, which was badly hit, was not operating either, a shipper said. Sur terminal handles 10 million tonners per year of LNG.
But there were no reports so far of serious damage to Oman’s Mina al Fahal refinery or other oil facilities, port, shipping and oil company sources said. Sohar refinery and port had reopened and were working as before the storm, the company said.
Authorities were assessing damage and could reopen the terminals on Friday, shipping and port sources predicted.
A source at PDO, a majority state-owned firm that produces most of Oman’s crude, said its facilities were not damaged.
Further north, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) port of Fujairah, one of the world’s largest ship refuelling centres, reopened on Thursday morning after closing on Wednesday due to the weather.
Port director Moussa Murad said the port facilities had sustained no damage from high waves caused by the storm.
A senior Iranian oil official said on Wednesday the storm was not expected to disrupt supplies from OPEC’s number two exporter as its main terminals were inside the Gulf waterway.
All Omani private and public sector institutions, including the stock exchange, were closed until Sunday due to the storm.
Ziad bin Karim al-Hirmi, CEO of Oman Air, told state television that it was ready to resume flights on Friday morning provided the airport had reopened.
Oman’s central bank governor Hamood Sangour al-Zadjali said storm damage would not have a major impact on the economy.
Waves pounded the east coast of the UAE, forcing some people to leave their homes and guests to leave hotels on Wednesday.
Oman’s weather centre, which has been keeping records since 1890, says Gonu could be the strongest storm to reach Oman’s coast since 1977 though meteorologists say milder tropical storms are common in the region from mid-May to the end of June.
But whereas the 1977 storm took an inland trajectory toward rural areas, Gonu moved along Oman’s heavily-populated coast, sweeping its main cities, industrial areas and ports.
“The displaced are returning to their homes. Things are going back to normal,” said relief official Abdallah al-Harthi. (Additional reporting by Summer Said in Dubai and Tehran bureau)