Cyclone Phet death toll rises

Death toll from the Omani cyclone reaches double digits as rescuers find more bodies - including one of their own number.

MUSCAT // The death toll from the cyclone that tore through eastern Oman surged yesterday as rescuers recovered bodies throughout the day - including one of their own number. By yesterday evening, reports from a variety of sources including civil defence officials, witnesses and doctors put the death toll as high as 17, with four more people missing and at least 52 having sustained injury.

The figures include an Omani man and a Bangladeshi woman found dead on Friday, the day the cyclone made landfall, bringing torrents of rain and winds that averaged 120 kph. Early yesterday, Omani state television reported that 12 people had been found dead - nine Omanis and three expatriates. Most of them drowned in floods. One of the Oman victims was part of a civil defence rescue team. Later, doctors said two more Omanis died in Muscat after their car ditched in a ravine.

"They were brought at the hospital in the morning [Saturday] already dead after being plucked out from a wadi," said a doctor at Nahdha Hospital in the sultanate's capital. "My colleagues in hospitals in the eastern region said 52 people were rushed to the hospital with injuries sustained during the storm, some serious." Farid al Harrasi, a shopkeeper at Quriyyat, 50km south of Muscat, saw four Omanis go missing as they crossed a wadi.

"I saw them crossing the wadi at Quriyyat, trying to get to their car, and a strong current swept them away and [they] disappeared around a bend. We don't know what happened to them," Mr al Harrasi said. State television said many residents of the eastern region who had been evacuated as the storm approached were returning to their homes as the government attempted to restore electricity. "It is still too early to count the losses in terms of money but it will be in millions, rather than thousands," a civil defence spokesman said. The cyclone has been downgraded to a tropical storm and last night was about 200 km north-east of Sur, Oman, heading towards Pakistan. In Fujairah yesterday, moderate winds and big waves endured, but the worst of the storm bypassed the UAE, according to the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology. Sharjah Municipality sent 11 lorries to pump water from Kalba Corniche Park, which closed due to heavy flooding from crashing waves. Yesterday afternoon, water continued to pour out its front gate. The Fujairah beach was deserted but workers crowded the Kalba corniche to photograph the breaking waves on their mobile phones. Tourists kept their distance from hotel beaches but took advantage of clear skies and cooler weather to suntan. Katie Eldridge, 29, said the storm added thrills to a weekend away from Dubai. "Last night the sea was raging," she said. "It was quite exciting. You know what Dubai's like, everything's still. Last night we were sitting outside and it was like January weather." Spray hit the Dibba-Fujairah coastal road, which was monitored by police in wetter areas. Visitors and residents said they were not bothered by the storm. "I enjoy it but I'm surprised for the boys playing in the sea," said Dr Anwar Mahmmoud, 35, from Dibba al Hisn, watching surfers with her baby and her husband. As for the surfers themselves, conditions were ideal. "It doesn't happen here very often so we're trying to make the most of it," said Daniel Van Dooran, 23, managing partner of Surf Dubai. "This doesn't feel like you're in the Middle East, it's like the tropics." * The National, with additional reporting by Anna Zacharias