Seventeen people are missing after tropical Cyclone Mekunu swept through Yemen's southern island of Socotra, state media said, ahead of its expected landfall later Friday near the border of mainland Yemen and Oman.
The internationally recognized Yemeni government declared Socotra a "disaster zone," confirming that two ships capsized and three cars were swept away by storm waters late Wednesday, state-run news agency SABA reported.
Cyclone Mekunu is now menacing coastal areas near the border of Yemen and Oman, with landfall -- when the exact center of the storm crosses the coast -- expected west of the Omani city of Salalah late afternoon or early evening local time Friday.
The storm was sustaining winds of 165 kilometers per hour (103 mph) as of 7:30 a.m. ET, equivalent to the strength of a category two hurricane, CNN forecasters said, with heavy bands of rain already moving ashore. The strongest winds will be felt where the eye crosses the coast.
Mekunu could bring between 100 and 250 millimeters (roughly four to 10 inches) of rainfall, in an area that usually averages 100 millimeters or less in a year, along with coastal waves up to 30 feet high.
The US Embassy in Oman issued a weather alert advising people to avoid travel to the affected area until the storm has dissipated.
"Residents of coastal areas in and around Salalah have been evacuated further inland," it said. "Expect heavy rains and strong winds with possible flooding, mudslides, power outages and difficult travel conditions in southern Oman."
Footage from Oman TV showed heavy rain and cars driving through flood waters.
'Stricken' island province
The internationally recognized government's President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi deployed the Yemeni Navy to assist in rescue and relief efforts on Socotra, which is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site for its biodiversity.
He also "called on all humanitarian organizations concerned with disaster relief to help with providing aid to the archipelago's people," according to SABA.
Socotra province is "stricken with human and material damages at all levels," government spokesman Rajeh Badi is quoted as saying by SABA. Governor of Socotra Ramzi Mahroos said 17 people were still unaccounted for, SABA said. Others remain displaced or trapped.
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Yemen pledged to help authorities in Socotra in the aftermath of the storm, according to Saudi state news agency SPA. Military planes carrying "tens of thousands of tons of relief, shelter and medical supplies" will head to the island as soon as weather permits, said Mohammed Al-Jabir.
Yemen already faces a humanitarian crisis after more than three years of civil war.
The United Nations recently declared the situation in Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people -- that is, three-quarters of the population -- in desperate need of aid and protection.
A storm of Cyclone Mekunu's magnitude is a rare occurrence in the Arabian peninsula. In the past 50 years, only three hurricane-strength storms have hit the Gulf of Aden. None of them were in the area where Mekunu is forecast to make landfall.
A time-lapse video posted Friday by Ahmed Alyafai in Dhofar Governorate showed strong winds blasting palm trees on the coast.
Oman's Meteorology Directorate issued warnings for the Dhofar and Al Wusta coastal regions of very heavy rainfall and strong winds, with rising sea levels that will cause floods. Residents are urged to stay out of the water because the sea is expected to be very rough.
After making landfall, the cyclone is likely to dissipate quickly, within 24 to 48 hours, as it encounters the region's dry and rugged desert terrain, CNN forecasters said.
Cyclone Mekunu comes on the heels of another storm just a week earlier -- Cyclone Sagar. Although it caused little reported damage in Yemen and Oman, the storm pummeled nearby Somalia, where local media reported at least 31 dead and thousands displaced.
In 2007, Cyclone Gonu killed dozens and displaced thousands as it lashed through Oman, as well as causing massive disruption to oil production.
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