Dubai: A powerful cyclone began buffeting Oman on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people from Masirah Island in the Arabian Sea and closing the country's main gas export terminal.
A weather service official told Oman state television Tropical Cyclone Gonu, which earlier reached the equivalent of a maximum-force Category Five hurricane, was expected to be worse than a destructive one that hit the island in 1977.
And while the coast of the country has been hit by high winds and rain since early Tuesday afternoon, the eye of the storm is due to pass close to the coast at around 2am on Wednesday morning.
It is then due to head north towards Iran, with the most powerful part of the storm possibly missing the UAE on its way up the Gulf.
Winds of up to 260 kmh and waves as high as 12 metres battered Oman's eastern coast, the state news agency forecast thunder storms and heavy rainfall in the oil producing country. The weather service offical expected floods.
"It's quite common to have heavy rains at this time of year in Oman," said a Western executive based in Muscat.
"But this weather is quite unusual and they're calling it the worst in Oman's modern history."
A shipping agent told Reuters Oman's Sur export terminal, which handles 10 million tonnes per year of liquefied natural gas exports had been closed because of the storm and the Mina al Fahal oil terminal, that ships all Oman's 650,000 barrels per day of oil exports, was likely to shut soon,
The Sultan Qaboos port, which handles vehicles and containers, was also closed, another shipping source said.
A shipping agent for the UAE said on Monday no warning had been issued there. Operations at the port of Fujairah were continuing as normal.
A Dubai-based shipping agent also said no official warning had been sent to his company.
Oman's civil defence has mobilised 7,000 personnel to handle any emergency situation in the aftermath of Gonu making landfall on the eastern coast.
After passing Oman, it expects the storm to head toward Iran across the Gulf of Oman, a major shipping channel for Gulf crude oil exports.
Brigadier Dr. Jamal Al Marri, Deputy Director of the Crisis and Disaster Management Committee, told Gulf News, "There are teams working on following up various developments and the areas to which the cyclone is expected to reach."
He said the preliminary precautionary procedures have already begun to cover the precautionary side of it.
"There is a direct follow up for various developments on the cyclone, its directions, speed and what will accompany it. The follow up has been going on for the last three days. The primary information we have imply that it will not affect the normal life," he said.
However, he said with the cyclone nearing the Eastern areas, especially south Oman, the things have taken a different way regarding preparedness.
A spokesperson from Dubai Civil Defence told Gulf News, "We have increased preparedness level and we are constantly following up the issue."