Most intense storm in decades sends thousands fleeing for shelter. UN says of 1.8 million people in cyclone-hit area, 1.4m already need humanitarian support.
A cyclone with hurricane-force winds made landfall on Yemen’s Arabian Sea coast on Tuesday, flooding the country’s fifth-largest city, Mukalla, and sending thousands of people fleeing for shelter.
Officials and meteorologists say the cyclone is the most intense in decades in the arid country, whose storm response is hampered by poverty and a raging civil war.
In Mukalla, the provincial capital, whose 300,000 people have been largely ruled by al-Qaida fighters since the army withdrew in April, water submerged cars on city streets and caused dozens of families to flee to a hospital for fear of rock slides.
Residents said the seafront promenade and many homes had been destroyed by the cyclone, called Chapala, and officials in the dry hinterland province of Shabwa said about 6,000 people had moved to higher ground.
“The wind knocked out power completely in the city, and people were terrified. Some residents had to leave their homes and escape to higher areas where flooding was less; it was a difficult night but it passed off peacefully,” said Sabri Saleem, who lives in Mukalla.
There were no initial reports of injuries.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) has said the governorates of Shabwa and Hadhramaut – where the cyclone made landfall – have a combined population of about 1.8 million people, 1.4 million of whom already need humanitarian support. “Ocha and UN agencies are monitoring, planning and pre-positioning relief in preparation for the landfall of the storm,” UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Monday.
The UN Office for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), said Chapala originated in the Indian Ocean on 28 October and intensified during the following days to category 4. The storm had the potential to drop three or four times the average yearly rainfall in just a day or two on parts of eastern Yemen and south-west Oman.
The cyclone first hit the remote Yemeni island of Socotra on Monday, killing three people and displacing thousands. The island, which lies 380km off Yemen in the Arabian Sea, is home to hundreds of plant species found nowhere else on earth. Its 50,000 residents speak their own language.
Meteorological agencies predicted cyclone Chapala would hit land around Balhaf, the site of Yemen’s liquefied natural gas terminal, and then weaken as it advanced towards the capital, Sana’a, in the north.
The facility has been mostly shuttered since the start of the war in March between a Saudi-led Arab military coalition and the Iran-allied Houthi movement, which controls Sana’a. It was not immediately clear if the terminal, once a lifeline for Yemen’s weak economy, suffered damage.