Y Magazine

In the eye of the storm: Oman unites in the spirit of survival after Cyclone Mekunu

Rains, winds and floodwaters wrought by Cyclone Mekunu devastate Dhofar but community camaraderie smiles through the ruins. Hasan al Lawati in Salalah to share the spirit of togetherness

As the winds surged, seas swelled up and waves rose menacingly, Oman was fully mobilised and security agencies were on high alert to deal with Cyclone Mekunu.

The rains started on Wednesday, May 23, and continued up to Sunday, pouring down five years’ worth of water in five days. People at risk were evacuated from their homes, Salalah airport was closed, and critical care patients in hospitals were airlifted to Muscat before Mekunu made landfall.

The Sultanate is still coming to terms with the devastation left behind by the cyclone that tore through the Dhofar region causing widespread flooding in southern areas.

Video footage that went viral minutes after the storm had wrought havoc showed buildings collapsing and dozens of cars being swept away by the floodwaters.

In the aftermath of the storm, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said declared a three-day holiday in the Dhofar region to facilitate rescue and relief operations.

We are all same

The rescue and relief efforts witnessed in the aftermath of the storms and rains were unprecedented as security agencies, corporate houses and common people joined hands together to offer help for the needy.

An elderly man stranded in his vehicle by rising floodwaters was saved by passersby who risked their lives to rescue him. “It shows how we the people in Oman can come together as one,” said Manpreet Singh, chairman of the Indian Social Club in Salalah. “We will pull through this as one.”

According to the Directorate General of Meteorology, 278.2mm of rain fell on Salalah in 24 hours. The death toll from Cyclone Mekunu so far has been put at five, and search is on for the missing.

The government was better prepared to face the situation, wise from the experience of dealing with Cyclone Gonu 11 years ago.

The Public Authority for Civil Defence and Ambulances (PACDA) evacuated more than 300 people threatened by floodwaters to safe zones and shelters. People were regularly informed to stay indoors while volunteer associations and community organisations came together to help the flood-hit.

“This time we were in a better position because of what we had experienced during the time of Gonu,” said Singh who was at the forefront of helping people.

“On Friday and Saturday I was getting phone calls every five minutes for help. We coordinated our efforts with the help of the embassy of India. Around 50 people who were staying in low-lying areas were moved to a rental apartment.”


Sea of volunteers

According to Dr Rashid Al Hajri, chairman of the National Youth Commission, around 6,000 people have registered to help Salalah recover from the aftermath of Cyclone Mekunu. “It surprised us. The kind of support we are receiving from volunteers is overwhelming.

These registered volunteers will support administrative authorities and the armed forces in restoring normalcy in the affected areas.”

Rehabilitation works are continuing, according to an official at the National Emergency Management Centre.

The roads have been badly damaged making accessibility to places impossible, and rains continue to be a hindrance. Three roads have been closed in Dhofar, while two others have been cleared and reopened, the Ministry of Transport and Communication announced. The Hima-Thumrait, Hima-Marmul roads and the one that passes through Qantabit have been closed for traffic.

Worst in history

Mkunu was the most powerful cyclone in Oman’s recorded history.

Government agencies thanked people for their cooperation and adherence to the warnings and guidelines issued by authorities which resulted in a significant reduction in loss of lives. “Efforts cannot be limited to volunteers. Every individual in Oman has played a role in these conditions by praying, communicating and listening to instructions. I would like to thank everyone, including all the volunteers. With the efforts of everyone Dhofar will be even better than it was,” Manpreet said.

The National Youth Commission has been in contact with the National Committee for Civil Defence and the Ministry of Social Development to organise and supervise volunteer efforts.

The Y magazine flew in to Salalah as soon as the airport reopened and was pleased to see volunteers from the private sector, municipal council members and businessmen gathered at the chamber of a commerce office to do their bit in relief and rescue operations.

We met there Ahmed Bait Ali Sulaiman, a member of the municipal council in Salalah who headed the Food Supply Committee of the main voluntary group in the southern region.

“Every afternoon we send a group of people to check the number of requests so we can order food from restaurants,” he told Y.

The Food Supply Committee sends 15 marjals (massive pots that can serve up to 300 meals) to the ones in need.

“We are planning to provide 4,500 meals a day,” Sulaimanm said, adding that restaurants had been serving food in bulk throughout the cyclone.

The committee has only six people but works with volunteers from Dhofar and Muscat to deliver food.

Praise for expats

On our way to a restaurant that serves food to the needy we caught up with Omar Al Shanfari, head of the Dhofar voluntary group. “What expatriates did during the crisis was amazing. We had a Kerala-based group that volunteered all night during the cyclone to help us. It’s our responsibility as hosts to keep them safe,” he said.

The Food Supply Committee is one of the four main committees created two days ahead of the cyclone: Evacuation, Transport, and On-Field are the others.


Areas out of reach

At the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) branch in Salalah, municipal council member Mohammed Kashoub said  accommodation for the victims was being provided in a number of hotels and apartments.

He pointed out that Sadah was still out of reach and water and power supplies had been cut off for more than four days.

“Western areas like Dhalkout and Mughsail remain cut off. Roads are badly damaged so we are thinking of sending aid via sea through Raisut port if it is safe,” Kashub explained.

“It is not just the rescue team who saved lives but people themselves who with God’s grace listened to the warnings, supported each other, and stayed patient,” he added, pointing out that neighbours shared food and houses during the cyclone.

Thumbs up for Khareef season

Kashub was optimistic about the upcoming Khareef season. “If the government has started fixing the roads and other infrastructure facilities I believe that we will be ready to welcome the tourism season. We have the capability to restore everything. It is just a matter of time.”

The Ministry of Transport and Communications said it would report on the approximate amount of damage caused by Cyclone Mikunu in the coming days.

“The ministry, in cooperation with several contractors, has repaired 70 percent of roads so far.”

He said the roads leading from Salalah to Raysut and from there to the western region had been completely cut off. Khor al-Mughsail “is now part of the sea”.

After alerting the police about rising water levels in the street of Haima-Thumrait, Tabuk said, the Thamrit-Marmol road was opened as an alternative route to and from the capital.

Engineer Saeed too stressed Salalah would be ready for the Khareef season, noting that “all the main areas have been linked by asphalt roads that are capable of serving tourists who are expected to come to the southern areas during the Khareef season, which will begin by