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story.lead_photo.caption An Oman official directs a loader driver Friday to tear away a median to drain a flooded street in Salalah after Cyclone Mekunu’s heavy rains.

SALALAH, Oman -- Cyclone Mekunu neared the Arabian Peninsula on Friday as its outer bands dumped heavy rain and bent palm trees in Oman after earlier thrashing the Yemeni island of Socotra.

At least 40 people, including Yemenis, Indians and Sudanese, were reported missing on Socotra, where flash floods washed away thousands of animals and cut power lines on the isle in the Arabian Sea. Officials feared some may be dead while authorities in Oman confirmed the first death in the cyclone.

The cyclone is expected to make landfall early today near Salalah, Oman's third-largest city and home to about 200,000 people close to the sultanate's border with war-ravaged Yemen.

Conditions quickly deteriorated in Salalah after sunrise Friday, with winds and rain beginning to pick up. Strong waves smashed into empty tourist beaches. Many tourists fled the storm Thursday night before Salalah International Airport closed. The Port of Salalah -- a key gateway for the country -- also closed, its cranes secured against the wind.

Streets quickly emptied across the city. Standing water covered roads and caused at least one car to hydroplane and flip over.

Later, a municipal worker on a huge loader used its bucket to tear into a road median to drain a flooded street.

Omani forecasters warned that Salalah and the surrounding area would get at least 7.87 inches of rain, over twice the amount this city typically gets in a year. Authorities remained worried about flash flooding in the area's valleys and potential mudslides down its nearby cloud-shrouded mountains.

A sizable police presence fanned out across Salalah, the hometown of Oman's longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

"Of course, for the citizen there is going to be a sense of fear of the consequences that can happen," said Brig. Gen. Mohsin bin Ahmed al-Abri, the commander of Dhofar governorate's police. "We have been through a few similar cases and there were losses in properties and also in human life as well. But one has to take precautions and work on that basis."

The Royal Oman Police later said on Twitter that a 12-year-old girl died after winds from the cyclone caused her to collide with a wall.

As torrential rains poured, authorities opened schools to shelter those whose homes are at risk. About 600 people, mostly laborers, huddled at the West Salalah School, some sleeping on mattresses on the floors of classrooms, where math and English lesson posters hung on the walls.

Shahid Kazmi, a worker from Pakistan's Kashmir region, said police moved him and others to the school. He acknowledged being a bit scared of the storm but said: "Inshallah, we are safe here."

India's Meteorological Department said the storm packed maximum sustained winds of 105 to 111 mph, gusting up to 124 mph. They described the cyclone as "extremely severe."

"Salalah is expected to experience maximum wind and maximum rainfall and also the maximum storm surge," said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra of the department.

On Socotra, authorities relocated over 230 families to sturdier buildings and other areas, including those more inland and in the island's mountains, Yemeni security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Flash floods engulfed Socotra streets, cutting electricity and communication lines, they said. At least 40 people were missing, they added. Some humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arrived on the island just hours after the cyclone receded.

The officials said heavy rains pummeled Yemen's easternmost province of al-Mahra, along the nation's border with Oman.

Socotra Gov. Ramzy Mahrous said one ship sank and two others ran aground in the storm, initially saying authorities believed 17 people were missing. "We consider them dead," the governor said.

Information for this article was contributed by Fay Abuelgasim, Ahmed al-Haj and Menna Zaki of The Associated Press.

A Section on 05/26/2018

Print Headline: Cyclone's rains threaten to flood Oman

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