Oman Evacuates 7,000 from Eastern Isle as Cyclone Nears

Government authorities declared a state of emergency and started evacuating nearly 7,000 people from an eastern Omani island Monday in response to a powerful cyclone headed toward the country, with an expected impact to be felt Tuesday, government officials said.

Gen. Malik bin Suleiman al-Muamri, head of the country's civil defense, told reporters that Cyclone Gonu was forecasted to first hit Oman Tuesday, with the most powerful portion of the storm expected Thursday.

Tropical Storm Gonu
Tropical Storm Gonu approaching landfall in the Middle East
Tropical Storm Gonu

Al-Muamri said the storm, which is heading northwest through the Indian Ocean toward the east coast of Oman, was expected to send waves reaching 10 meters against the shores of Masira island, necessitating Monday's evacuation. Some 500 people were killed on Masira island when a cyclone hit in 1977.

Oman Monday declared a state of emergency ahead of the arrival of Gonu, the state's news agency reported on its Web site Monday, citing government officials.

Oman's armed forces, the SAF, and Royal Oman Police were alerted. Warnings on the storm are to be issued by Oman's civil aviation and meteorology services every three hours, the Oman news service reported.

According to Weather Underground meteorologist Tim Roche, Gonu currently has winds of 260 kilometers per hour, with gusts up to 315 kilometers per hour.

Roche reported that Gonu is forecasted to hit Oman with sustained winds of around 185 kilometers per hour, before moving north over the Gulf of Oman into southern Iran. With those wind speeds, the storm would be the strongest cyclone to hit the Arabian Peninsula in history (since 1945), he noted.

To reassure both its people and the oil markets, Saudi Arabia's government issued a statement Monday saying the cyclone would have no "direct effect on the central and eastern parts of the kingdom."

Oil prices edged upward Monday as the storm headed toward the oil-rich Persian Gulf area, but Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, doubted the increases could really be attributed to Gonu.

"I don't know if you can really attribute any of the gain to the cyclone," he said. "It's an excuse, as opposed to a reason, for the rise in prices."