Rare tropical cyclone batters Yemen

A man trying to save a vehicle swept away by flood waters in Yemen’s picturesque island of Socotra on Monday. Cyclone Chapala brought sustained winds of 130kmh when it made landfall.
A man trying to save a vehicle swept away by flood waters in Yemen’s picturesque island of Socotra on Monday. Cyclone Chapala brought sustained winds of 130kmh when it made landfall. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chapala causes heavy damage in area of war-torn country controlled by Al-Qaeda

ADEN • A rare tropical cyclone has slammed into Yemen, triggering heavy flooding and causing "enormous" damage in a region of the war-torn country dominated by Al-Qaeda.

Packing winds of more than 100kmh, Cyclone Chapala made landfall in the south-eastern provinces of Hadramawt and Shabwa, said Minister of Fisheries Fahd Kafain yesterday.

"The damage is enormous and we fear human losses," said the minister, who is part of a commission set up to deal with the cyclone that brewed in the Arabian Sea.

The storm earlier wreaked havoc on the island of Socotra located 350km off the Yemeni mainland.

More than 200 people were injured and dozens of houses and hamlets were severely damaged or washed away, said Mr Salem Zaher, mayor of the island's main district Hadibo.

An island of natural beauty, Socotra is home to hundreds of plant species not found anywhere else. Its 50,000 residents speak their own language.

Images posted on social media showed heavy floods hitting the streets of Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt on Yemen's mainland, bringing further misery to Yemenis already beset by poverty and rampant unrest.

Cars were half-submerged in muddy water while seafront roads were badly damaged by high waves.

"The rainfall from Chapala is far beyond anything ever witnessed in this arid area which is not used to cyclones," United Nations weather agency the World Meteorological Organisation said on Monday.

The "very severe cyclonic storm" brought maximum sustained winds of 130kmh with gusts of up to 145kmh when it made landfall, it said in a joint update yesterday with India's meteorological agency.

But the cyclone had since lost strength and was expected to weaken into a tropical depression during the next 12 hours, it added.

Mukalla has been mostly controlled by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula since April. The militants have taken advantage of the chaos that has engulfed the country since Houthi Shi'ite rebels overran the capital Sanaa in September last year to tighten their grip on the sprawling south-east.

Neighbouring Oman downgraded its state of alert, saying the cyclone had moved westwards and would not directly hit the sultanate.

However, the Omani meteorological agency warned that waves as high as 3m were still expected to hit the shores of Dhofar and Al-Wusta provinces.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Rare tropical cyclone batters Yemen'. Print Edition | Subscribe