Cyclone Gonu Kills 70, Leaves Oil Ports Unscathed

TEHRAN, Iran, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - The death toll from Cyclone Gonu rose to 70 on Saturday when Iranian state media reported nine new deaths from the storm that swept across Oman and Iran last week. A rarity in this arid part of the world, the storm raised fears of a disruption to oil exports from the Middle East, which pumps over a quarter of the world's oil.

The strongest tropical storm recorded in the Gulf region since 1945, the cyclone left at least 30 people dead in Oman, while 40 people lost their lives in Iran. The death toll is expected to rise as search and rescue workers reach remote areas isolated by flooding.

Cyclone Gonu was first observed by satellite on June 4 approaching the northeastern shore of Oman, a region better known for hot desert conditions.

The storm then had reached a dangerous Category 4 status, and was forecast to graze Omanís northeastern shore, following the coastline of the Gulf of Oman. Gonu peaked as a maximum force Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday.

Rain from Cyclone Gonu submerged a MacDonald's in Muscat, the capital of Oman. June 6, 2007. (Photo courtesy Guy de Oman)
The cyclone hit Oman's central coast with strong winds and rain early Wednesday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate to higher ground. Thousands of residents were evacuated from Oman's coast and the offshore island of Masirah.

The local authorities and the Iranian Red Crescent Society gave early warning to the residents living in the areas to be hit by the cyclone and arranged for a total of 40,000 people to move to safe higher areas before the arrival of the storm.

On Wednesday afternoon, the storm began lashing the islands and coastal cities in Hormozgan, Sistan-Baluchistan and Kerman provinces in southeast Iran.

Winds varying from 60 to 200 kilometers (40 to 124 miles per hour) snapped trees, sheared off electric poles and caused fires in some city locations. Storm surges kept rising as the cyclone gained momentum.

Early Wednesday evening torrential rains poured over Iran's farthest southeastern coastal cities, including Chabahar, Jask, Konarak and Bandar Abbas. Houses, roads and electricity networks were destroyed by the winds and floods.

A cargo ship sank in the coastal waters of Haghani jetty in Bandar Abbas on Wednesday, Iranian officials announced Saturday.

Speaking to the IRNA state news agency, Colonel Asghar Ghotbzadeh said the ship had already been seized by coastal guard for illegal transport of crude oil.

Storm experts in the region said they had not witnessed such a powerful storm in the port cities of Chabahar and Konarak for 30 years.


Cyclone Gonu overturned these cars near Muscat, Oman. (Photo courtesy David Blades)
Still capable of whipping ocean waves up to 35 feet, the weakening storm then moved westward into the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.

On fears of a disruption to oil exports, crude oil prices rose to around $71 a barrel on Thursday. But prices stabilized near $65 a barrel on news over the weekend that Cyclone Gonu had spared major oil installations, easing supply worries.

One of the world's largest ship refueling centers, the United Arab Emirates' port of Fujairah, reopened on Thursday after closing the day before.

Some preparedness measures were taken in advance that saved lives and are allowing quicker recovery now that the storm has passed. The Iranian government set up the special emergency task forces at the central and provincial levels to coordinate the response to the cyclone.

The country's Natural Disasters Commission arranged for the transportation of bottled drinking water and medicines to the regions to be affected by the storm.

The Ministry of Health put the entire hospitals, health and medical centers in Sistan-Baluchistan and Hormozgan provinces on red alert in order to provide medical services to the cyclone victims if needed.

The Iranian Red Crescent Society pursued a strategy of pre-positioning emergency stocks in key areas of the country and of training relief and rescue workers at branch and national levels.

"There is no doubt that the swift implementation of preparedness measures, including the early warning system, saved many lives," said Chang Hun Choe, representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent in Tehran. "The strategy has paid off."

State media said roads and houses in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan were damaged by the cyclone and many coastal areas were cut off by flooding.

In other areas, provincial emergency task forces have begun distributing bread and water to disaster victims and working on repairing damaged roads, electricity networks and telecommunication systems.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.