Seventeen feared dead after Cyclone Mekunu hits Yemen's Socotra island

More than 200 families forced to leave their villages

A view shows Hadibu city on the capital island of Socotra November 21, 2013. The Socotra islands, in the Arabian Sea 380 km south of mainland Yemen and 80 km west of the Horn of Africa, harbour many unique species of birds and plants and gained UNESCO recognition in July 2008 as a world natural heritage site. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi (YEMEN  - Tags: TRAVEL CITYSCAPE) - GM1E9BM01IV01
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Seventeen people were missing and hundreds of others forced from their homes as Cyclone Mekunu hit Yemen’s island of Socotra, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency on Thursday.

The island "requires urgent aid to help people stranded in their villages or those who reside in the mountains", government spokesman Rajeh Badi told state news agency Saba.

Mekunu brought thunderstorms and strong winds of up to 160kph to the island, causing severe flooding and damage to houses. The cyclone is expected intensify, according to India's Meteorological Department, with gusts from the "very severe" storm likely to reach 190kph by Saturday.

Mr Badi said 17 people were missing on Thursday after two boats capsized and three cars were washed away by floods. Another official said more than 200 families had left their villages.

On Wednesday night, a source told The National that at least three vessels had gone off the radar."The situation is extremely critical," said the former governor of the island, Salem Abdullah Al Socotri.

“The roads are flooded, and we cannot get out of [the northern coastal town] of Hadibu to see what is going on in other areas of the island. Also, the strong winds have intercepted telecommunications, so we are almost isolated.”

Mr Al Sacotri said the operations and control room in Hadibu received information that a cargo ship sank about 80 kilometres off the shore of the island.

"According to our data, the ship was coming from Mukalla, and we still don't know whether or not the crew survived," he told The National.

The homes of some residents in Socotra have been completely destroyed after the cyclone hit the island.

“Some families who had to evacuate their homes have gone to mosques and schools for shelter because their mud-built residences had collapsed, the structures were not strong enough,” Abdulrahman Juman, a Yemeni activist and volunteer, said.

Saba also reported that authorities called on humanitarian organisations and the Saudi-led military coalition that is battling the Houthi rebels in the country to help.

Cyclone Mekunu is expected to make landfall close to the southern Omani city of Salalah as early as Friday accompanied by strong winds and lashing rain, according to meteorologists.

Oman is on high alert and authorities said they were taking all necessary precautions. The Salalah airport was ordered shut for 24 hours from midnight on Thursday, but the closure could be extended depending on the weather conditions, the civil aviation authority said. Hospitals in the southern province of Dhofar have been evacuated.


Read more:

Cyclone Sagar brings heavy rain and strong winds to southern Yemen

Tropical storm heads towards Arabian Peninsula


In the UAE, the Dubai Municipality warned motorists and seafarers to take precautions against bad weather brought by the cyclone.

"The weather change in the UAE is expected to start on Friday, May 25, with the activity of the south-eastern wet wind, which may lead to rainy clouds and mild to moderate rainfall in different areas of Dubai," said Iman Al Falasi, head of the municipality's Geodetic and Marine Survey Section.

"The Mekunu influence may increase on Saturday, with a chance for more clouds and the possibility for sporadic rainfall. The surface wind speed may be up to 30kph in some areas and the full impact of the cyclone will be finished by Sunday," she said.

Mekunu is the fourth hurricane-strength cyclone to hit southern Yemen in recent years. Cyclone Sagar hit earlier this month, and in late 2015, Socotra was hit by Cyclone Chapala followed just days later by Cyclone Megh — which destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 18 people on the island in the Gulf of Aden, about 300km from Yemen's southern coast.

Millions of Yemenis are living in dire conditions as a result of a long-running civil conflict between the internationally-recognised government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

However, Socotra has been spared from direct involvement in the violence, which has claimed up to 10,000 lives since March 2015 and has triggered what the United Nations has called the world's "worst humanitarian crisis".