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. Powerful Cyclone Threatens Oil Industry In Oman

Omanis look at high waves splashing on the rocks as a cyclone approaches Muscat. A cyclone packing huge winds of up to 260 kilometres an hour advanced towards the Gulf state of Oman on Tuesday, posing a potential threat to the key route for oil exports from the energy-rich region. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Mohammad Bellouchi and Laith Abou-Ragheb
Muscat, Oman (AFP) Jun 05, 2007
A cyclone packing huge winds of up to 260 kilometres an hour advanced towards the Gulf state of Oman on Tuesday, posing a potential threat to the key route for oil exports from the energy-rich region. Oman has evacuated about 7,000 people from coastal areas in the sultanate, where the weather service said Cyclone Gonu was expected to make landfall by early Wednesday.

The first signs of the cyclone, with winds of up to 260 kilometres (160 miles) an hour and waves up to 12 metres (40 feet), have already been felt along Oman's coastal regions with torrential rains and pounding winds.

Weather officials said Cyclone Gonu is expected to be the strongest to hit the Arabian Peninsula since 1977.

The army, police and civil defence have all been mobilised.

"The cyclone is advancing toward the Omani coast at a speed of 12 kilometres an hour, accompanied by torrential rains, storms and winds at the centre of the cyclone of 115 to 140 knots, or 212 to 260 kilometres an hour," the weather service said.

Residents of the island of Masirah in the Arabian Sea as well as of Oman's eastern coastline have sought refuge on higher ground.

The Musandam peninsula on the northern-most tip of Oman which juts into the Strait of Hormuz could also be affected, the weather service said.

Except for oil from OPEC powerhouse Saudi Arabia, all crude exports from the Arab states in the Gulf -- or about a quarter of world supplies -- go through the strait, making it the world's most important oil passage.

An official in the ministry of transportation, who requested not to be named, told AFP however that shipping was continuing through the strait.

Around 8:00 pm (1600 GMT) Tuesday, the cyclone which was formed in the Indian ocean, was about 122 kilometres (72 miles) from al-Hadd, on Oman's eastern coast, chief Omani meteorologist Ahmed al-Harithi told AFP.

It is expected to hit al-Hadd before dawn on Wednesday and move round to Muscat and Oman's shores on the Gulf of Oman by mid-afternoon, he added.

An air of quiet apprehension hung over Muscat on Tuesday evening. The streets of the capital were mostly traffic free and many shops and restaurants closed early.

Some people decided to venture out despite warnings to stay indoors. Ameer al-Zadja, a 22 year-old Omani bank employee, gathered at nightfall with a group of friends by a stretch of the city's corniche to await signs of the storm's arrival.

He told AFP the weather in recent days had been very unusual and he was eager to witness the storm firsthand. "But I'm going to grab my keys and jump in my car at the first sign of trouble," he added.

The city's hotels have been preparing for the worst. One five-star hotel issued leaflets warning guests to "stay away from windows during strong winds and keep curtains closed" as well as pointing out that a flashlight could be found in the closet.

Schools, as well as the public and private sectors were ordered to shut down from Wednesday until Sunday morning.

Muscat's airport remained operative and there had been no decision yet to close it, Mohammed bin Sakhr al-Ameri, undersecretary for civil aviation, told AFP, as dark clouds engulfed the capital.

The Saudi weather service said it did not expect any "direct impact" on the oil-producing central and eastern regions of the kingdom. Winds of 40 kilometres an hour and 2.5-metre waves are forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.

A spokesman for the United Arab Emirates' meteorology department said the cyclone would have little impact on the country, also a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

"There will probably be a light storm," the meteorologist told AFP.

Yemeni official Saleh Abdullah Neimer told the Saba news agency that his country had deployed civil defence teams across coastal areas in the event of any impact by the cyclone.

World oil prices had risen on Monday amid fears of potential damage to oil infrastructure. But prices slid on Tuesday as the concerns abated.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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