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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Oman declares 3-day holiday for cyclone recovery effort

Oman's arid southern Dhofar region flooded 

Debris and sea foam litter a beach after Cyclone Mekunu in Salalah, Oman, Saturday, May 26, 2018. Kamran Jebreili / AP
Debris and sea foam litter a beach after Cyclone Mekunu in Salalah, Oman, Saturday, May 26, 2018. Kamran Jebreili / AP

Oman's government has declared a three day holiday after tropical cyclone Mekunu tore through the country causing widespread flooding in the southern Dhofar region.

The superstorm, which left over 40 missing after it battered the UNESCO-listed Socotra islands, made landfall on the Omani coastline on Friday.

By the time the cyclone was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday, the port city of Salalah was more than a metre underwater in places.

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The Directorate General of Meteorology recorded 278.2 mm of rain falling on Salalah in 24 hours, more than two times the precipitation the city receives in an average year.

The rain caused widespread flooding across the usually arid sultanate, turning normally dry wadis turbid, flooding streets and homes and causing a number of fatalities.

An Indian labourer died in a flooded valley, a man was reported drowned when his car was swept away, and a 12-year-old girl was killed when winds blew her into a wall, Oman police said.

Footage shared on social media showed torrents of sediment-laden water tearing through streets, buildings collapsing and palm trees bent over by the force of winds which gusted to 170 kilometres per hour. One video shared by the Oman police on Twitter showed dozens of cars being carried along by floodwaters.

The government mobilised the army to evacuate over 300 people threatened by flooding to safe zones and shelters, state television said.

Witnesses said water levels rose up to a metre deep in some streets, flooding homes and damaging buildings. “Water entered the front yard of my house and was just a foot from threshold of my front door," Abdullah Al Mushaikhi, a resident of Salalah told The National. "My car was almost submerged by the water.”

Another witness said his business was destroyed in the flooding. “The combination of strong winds and water pushed my shop’s wall down early this morning," grocer Ahmed Al Sinani, said. "All my vegetables and fruits were washed away,”

The cyclone was the most powerful in Oman's recorded history.

On Saturday morning, as wind speeds dropped to between 35 to 50 knots (65 to 93 kilometres per hour), the Directorate General of Meteorology downgraded Mekunu to a tropical storm. But a high alert remained in force in Salalah, with officials urging inhabitants to remain indoors for the next 24 hours for all but essential travel.

The three day holiday for both the public and private sector is intended to encourage Omanis to remain safely in their homes while emergency crews begin a clean up operation.

The UAE has not been affected by Mekunu.