MUSCAT — Oman’s emergency services were placed on full alert yesterday as the Sultanate braces for one of the worst cyclonic storms ever to hit the country for many decades. Supercyclone Gonu, packing wind speeds of around 200 kilometres per hour, is said to be bearing down on Oman’s eastern seaboard and is forecast to make landfall tomorrow night. However, the approaching storm is likely to have an impact as early as this evening, unleashing heavy rains, gusting winds and tidal waves, say officials.
Large coastal swathes stretching from Ras al Hadd to Ras Madrakah are expected to bear the brunt of the storm. Attention is particularly focused on Masirah Island where forecasters are predicting a storm surge rising as high as 10 metres. Yesterday, authorities issued a three-day cyclone alert and announced a full mobilisation of the country’s Civil Defence apparatus, with the Sultan’s Armed Forces, and other security and government agencies also set to play a supportive role.
Lt-General Malik bin Sulaiman al Maamari, Inspector General of Police and Customs, and Head of the National Civil Defence Committee (NCDC), convened a special meeting of the committee at the General Headquarters of the Royal Oman Police (ROP) at Qurum. Also in attendance were officials from various ministries represented on the NCDC. Later, in remarks to journalists, Lt General Al Maamari said Gonu posed a major threat to low-lying areas as well as population centres along the coast between Ras al Hadd and Ras Madrakah. Masirah’s plains, where two-third of the Island’s roughly 7,000 residents live, are also at risk.
Masirah’s plains, where two-third of the Island’s roughly 7,000 residents live, are also at risk. "We encourage people to shift from areas in the path of the storm to safer ground, particularly in Masirah and the Al Halaniyat Islands. Those who find it difficult to find safe, alternative lodging during the storm can approach the ROP, who will coordinate with other government departments to provide suitable shelter during this period. “Arrangements are being made to ensure provisions of food, water and other essentials during this period," he said.
Units from the Sultan"s Armed Forces (SAF) will be standing by, while the Royal Air Force of Oman and the ROP Air Wing will be ready to provide all necessary assistance. They will be available to supply food, medicine and provisions where needed. We are sending food and water to areas likely to be affected by the storm. Essential supplies are being stockpiled in these areas." A number of schools, and even some government departments, on the mainland have been earmarked for use as temporary shelters during the period of the storm.
The ROP will set up three "theatres of operation" in Muscat to help oversee the emergency and rescue effort once Gonu arrives. Another "threatre of operation" will also be set up jointly with the Ministry of Defence and other security agencies. The ROP is positioning ambulances in areas likely to hit by the cyclone. Doctors attached to Health Ministry institutions in these areas are being urged to cancel all leave during the storm alert. With communications likely to be disrupted and telecom masts damaged, authorities plan to turn to wireless and satellite-based Thuraya communications.
Thundershowers, rough seas forecast
The Met Office, citing the latest satellite pictures and numerical weather prediction charts, has described Gonu as a very severe cyclonic storm with wind speed gusting from 185-205 km/hour and associated with very rough seas. The centre of the cyclonic storm is around 480 km from the area between Ras al Hadd and Masirah, while the bands of convective clouds is around 300 km east of Masirah. The system is moving in a westerly to northwesterly direction towards Oman"s coast at around 18km per hour.
Over the next 30 hours, thundershowers and cloudy conditions are predicted over the Sharqiya region, extending to Muscat Governorate and the regions of Al Wusta, Interior, Batinah and Dhahirah regions. Conditions will be clear to partly cloudy across the rest of the country. The seas off the Wusta and Sharqiya coasts, as well as the Gulf of Oman, will be "very rough", with maximum wave heights ranging from 5 to 7 metres. It will be moderate over the rest of Oman"s coast with maximum wave heights of 2 metres.
Importantly, the Met Office will also begin issuing a regular stream of forecasts every three hours or so to keep the general public updated about the approaching cyclone. A mobile TV crew will be stationed at the Main Forecasting Centre at Seeb Airport to provide periodic updates. However, if the storm system weakens, the frequency of weather forecasts will be reduced, say Met officials. In addition, text messages (SMS) will be issued in English and Arabic.
Attention from Royal Oman Police
Royal Oman Police draws the attention of all citizens and residents to take necessary precautions as the tropical cyclone Gonu approach to the Sultanate coastal areas was confirmed. It is expected that the cyclone will affect all parts of the Sultanate and hence all seafarers are advised not to approach the sea and to keep in touch with the concerned department in terms of the news related. A number of com¬mittees emanated to the National Committee of Civil Defence were formed to operate 24 hours in all the Sultanate"s regions and gover¬norates. The said committees have taken all necessary procedures and measures including areas to accommodate those who flee their areas, food and medical services, in cooperation with the walls and sheikhs of their respective areas.
Royal Oman Police appeals to all citizens and residents to cooperate with ROP personnel and formations operating throughout 24 hours and to call emergency number (9999) whenever necessity arises. Citizens and residents are also appealed to listen to the related news to be broadcasted by Oman TV and Radio on regular basis.