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Cyclone heads to Iran after lashing Oman

June 07, 2007|From the Associated Press

MUSCAT, OMAN — Cyclone Gonu battered Oman's coast Wednesday with fierce winds and torrential rains, forcing thousands from their homes and shutting down oil installations before heading toward the world's most important crude oil tanker route.

The storm, a rarity in the Middle East, weakened slightly and dropped below hurricane strength late in the day, with winds of 52 mph this morning, according to the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

It was expected to hit the southeastern Iranian coast late today, but was likely to spare Iran's offshore oil installations, the center and oil officials said.

In Muscat, the cyclone unleashed sheets of rain and howling winds rarely seen in the quiet seaside capital. Police and emergency vehicles could barely move through flooded streets, and authorities used text messages to warn people away from low areas.

The storm made roads unusable and severed communication lines, cutting off Oman's eastern provinces.

There was little damage to Oman's relatively small oil fields. But raging seas prevented tankers from sailing from Omani ports, shutting down the country's oil exports, said Nasser bin Khamis Jashimi of the Ministry of Oil and Gas.

To the north, the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates suspended all refueling and ship-to-ship supply operations.

A few ships were sailing through the nearby Strait of Hormuz despite 4- to 6-foot swells and strong winds, said Suresh Nair of the Gulf Agency Co. shipping firm. About one-fifth of the world's oil passes through the narrow waterway at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

Even with the weaker winds, Gonu, which means a bag made of palm leaves in the language of the Maldives, is believed to be the strongest cyclone to hit the Arabian Peninsula since record-keeping started in 1945.

Sharifa bint Khalfan, Omani minister of social development, said more than 20,000 people were evacuated to government-provided dwellings. Police said a body washed ashore in the coastal city of Sur, and there were reports of people trapped in homes in low-lying areas of the capital.

In Iran, authorities evacuated hundreds of people living in the port city of Chabahr. State television said floods had cut off some major roads in southeastern Iran and winds gusting up to 69 mph had buffeted coastal areas.

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