I admit to not having had my eye on the ball, being more concerned with investing in property in Morocco at the time. There are interesting comparisons between tourism development in Oman and Morocco, but examination of that will have to wait until a later date.
While newsbriefsoman was absent, Oman Observer updated its web presence and joined Web 2.0. It now publishes via a content management system which enables it to archive stories with unique urls. You can download story feeds in an RSS reader. The format appears tidy and structured.
Also see daily reminders of stories from both Oman Observer and Times of Oman at newsBriefsOman on WebPartner.
The other major event was Cyclone Phet. Phet hit the eastern seaboard of Oman almost exactly three years to the day since Cyclone Gonu struck the country. Gonu was the strongest known tropical cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea. It headed directly northwestwards past Muscat and eventually crossed Iran. See storm track on wikipedia.
Cyclone Phet threatened to be almost as powerful, but changed track and veered northeastwards towards Pakistan after reaching the eastern Omani coast. It didn't hit Muscat directly.
The authorities were better prepared than they had been and the Royal Oman Police evacuated the island of Masirah which lay in the storm's path.
Oil exports were halted at Mina Fahal, the terminal near Muscat, and gas production at Oman LNG closed down for a couple of days. No damage was reported, publicly, at these installations.
The DG for the Interior region in the Ministry of Agriculture asserted that damage to Oman's date crop in the interior was not as bad as was the case in 2007.
Local media seemed to lose interest quickly, possibly because Muscat, the biggest centre of population, did not suffer anywhere like as much damage as it had during Cyclone Gonu. Muscat may have been sheltered to some extent by the mountains of Al Hajar behind it. Towns and villages on the southern side, such as Amerat and Quriyat, were very badly affected. Quriyat had been laid waste only three years before by Cyclone Gonu.
Electricity and water supplies were restored swiftly to the most populated areas of Muscat and Amerat, but not Quriyat.
Although Phet was downgraded to Tropical Storm status, it devastated eastern Sharqiyah while it still had cyclonic force. See Phet's storm track on wikipedia.
Over 20 people were reported as having died, one of whom was a member of the Civil Defence Force of the Royal Oman Police (ROP) who ventured into a wadi to try and save a family trapped in the floodwaters.
Oman's most notable charity, Dar al Atta'a or The House of Giving, moved into action swiftly, sending supplies and volunteers into the area south of Muscat. A spokesperson commented that it was imperative that a disaster management body be formed to cope with the impact of cyclones since the country's coastal regions could be regularly affected.
This appears to have happened by direction of HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, who personally ordered the creation of a National Crisis Management Committee following Phet, and the restructuring of the national plan for crisis management.
Very little news of the impact of the devastation emerged in the official English-language media. A report in the Times of Oman related just one case study from a village in Amerat where the interviewee had lost his house and all his possessions. All official help he had received in three weeks were two bags of rice and water from the Armed Forces.
Abu Dhabi's The National, published businessmen's response to their losses on 7th June.
Here and there on the web are intimations of personal tragedies. One tweeter said that her family's farm had been destroyed. Another tweeter posted a photo of supply-laden trucks funded by BankMuscat bound for Quriyat.
Mr Sythe, on Muscat Mutterings, showed photos of houses levelled by the storm at Yiti, a village just around the corner from Muscat. The 'road,' had virtually disappeared.
A YouTube channel displays videos of the flooding in Jaalan Bani Bu Ali, Al Kamil, Al Wafi in the eastern part of Al Sharqiyah region, rather further away from the capital. The storm closed down 680 units in the Jaalan Bani Bu Ali industrial area.
Reports reaching me via personal messages reveal that it took the government a week to supply drinking water to the area, and that camels, goats and date palm plantation had been wiped out or flattened. It's estimated that it will take at least six months to return to normal.
Total damage caused by Phet in Oman has been estimated as ranging between US$780m and US$900. No official statement of the cost of damage seems to have been quoted
Anticipated insurance payouts on damage caused by the cyclone have been estimated at US$200 million.
Meanwhile, Her Highness Sayyida Rawan bint Ahmed al Said has been appointed Deputy Chairperson of the Board of Directors of National Bank of Oman (NBO), a post that she appears to have re-assumed after originally being appointed as the SGRF representative in April 2005. The role complements her portfolio of financial appointments. Ms Al-Said is named as a senior manager of Oman's 'Bulgarian Acquisition,' which has 'expressed interest in investing in an €4bn nuclear power plant in Bulgaria and a €700m trans-Balkan oil pipeline from Bulgaria’s Burgas to the Greek port of Alexandroupolis.'
News reports had said the damage was very bad there and it took quite a while to re-establish communications and to ferry relief supplies.
I followed the trail to Btswarm which is home to 'torrents' of video. Since this video collection came to 836 Mb, I had to use Bittorrent to download it. It took me two days.
The result is a collection of video file fragments. The videos were taken from a 4x4 vehicle in an observer convoy presumably bound for Quriyat from Muscat, much of it along a graded track alongside where the road used to be.
My memory of the landscapes is hazy so I cannot be definitive about locations. Neither can I tell you who was in the convoy or what its purpose was, or even who took the video and uploaded it to Btswarm.
Since the author did upload it, presumably he (because it is a he), would not mind it entering the public domain. But lack of any accreditation makes it impossible to assign authorship.
I have edited some of the files into four video clips which I have uploaded to YouTube and am embedding them here. Please note that all the sound tracks are original. You may have to adjust volume.
The first video shows a fine dual carriageway crossing a totally flooded alluvial plain. Music is playing on the radio which is interrupted by an announcement that following the Royal Decree of HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Oman Charitable Organisation is accepting donations from citizens and residents visitors alike for flood relief. The announcer quotes details of a bank account at Oman International Bank, main branch.
The second video shows the destruction of bridges and roads.
The third video, watched entirely through, reveals the wasteland in Quriyat town left by the floods.
The fourth video follows the convoy out of Quriyat on what looks like a coastal stretch. Date palms have been half submerged by sand and silt.
What the article did not mention is that Oman is the first country to have a World Heritage Site deleted from the list since UNESCO's Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage came into force in 1972. The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Al Wusta is to be removed.
Poaching and environmental degradation have reduced the number of Arabian Oryx there from 450 to 65 since 1996, with only four breeding pairs, according to a press release from Unesco.
The World Heritage Committee considered that the decision by the Oman authorities to reduce the size of the reserve by 90% to allow for hydrocarbon exploration was in "contravention of the Operational Guidelines of the Convention. This was seen by the Committee as destroying the outstanding universal value of the site which was inscribed in 1994."
Given the rapid decline in numbers of the Arabian Oryx within the last ten years, it could hardly have been claimed that the animals were being protected. The reserve has also been home to two other endangered species, the Arabian Gazelle and the Houbara Bustard.
Another story in the news today is of the plight of over 1,000 Indians and almost 400 Nepalis who have been stranded in Oman following the departure of their employment company. The Chinese Sino Hydro Corporation in Oman, which had been working on an irrigation project, left the country when Muscat Municipality refused both to pay for work done and to give the company more time to clear the mud residue left after the cyclone.
While the Indian authorities have begun to step in to assist its nationals, it's claimed that the Nepalis had been brought to Oman directly and illegally by the Chinese company, in contravention of Nepal's labour laws that require the recruiting agency to sign an agreement with the Nepal government.
Agents of the company are said to have told the labourers to look for work elsewhere in Oman, which they can't do because they don't have the paperwork.
The Nepali authorities contend that they have no knowledge of the matter, since they have no mission in Oman, and they have received no report from the embassy in Saudi Arabia which overlooks Nepalis in Gulf countries without a mission.
Let's hope these guys can get home soon.
40% probability of a Tropical Storm reaching Muscat in 48 hours. Which means that it's low likelihood, but you could still get heavy rainfall.
Updated at 16:20 hours BST: the storm track has moved north and is now lying south of Karachi. It is projected to move across the coast of Pakistan in the region of Gwadar and then into southern Iran, which also suffered substantially following the passage of Gonu. The probability of the storm affecting Muscat has fallen to 1 - 5%.
Sent: 25 June 2007 09:59
Subject: TSR Storm Alert - Tropical Storm 03B
Storm Alert issued at 25 Jun, 2007 6:00 GMT
Tropical Storm 03B is forecast to strike land to the following likelihood(s) at the given lead time(s):
Yellow Alert Country(s) or Province(s)
probability for TS is 80% currently
probability for TS is 75% in about 36 hours
probability for TS is 60% in about 36 hours
Yellow Alert City(s) and Town(s)
Gwadar (25.3 N, 62.4 E)
probability for TS is 65% in about 24 hours
Chah Bahar (25.4 N, 60.7 E)
probability for TS is 60% in about 36 hours
Ormara (25.3 N, 64.6 E)
probability for TS is 55% in about 24 hours
Green Alert Country(s) or Province(s)
probability for TS is 40% in about 36 hours
Green Alert City(s) and Town(s)
Kalak (25.5 N, 59.3 E)
probability for TS is 50% in about 36 hours
Nikshahr (26.2 N, 60.2 E)
probability for TS is 45% in about 36 hours
Mandvi (22.9 N, 69.4 E)
probability for TS is 40% currently
Hoshab (26.0 N, 64.0 E)
probability for TS is 40% in about 24 hours
Muscat (23.5 N, 58.6 E)
probability for TS is 40% in about 48 hours
Fins (22.9 N, 59.2 E)
probability for TS is 35% in about 36 hours
Sur (22.5 N, 59.6 E)
probability for TS is 35% in about 36 hours
Yellow Alert (Elevated) is CAT 1 or above to between 10% and 30% probability, or TS to above 50% probability.
Green Alert (Low) is TS to between 31% and 50% probability.
CAT 1 means Severe Cyclonic Storm strength winds of at least 74 mph, 119 km/h or 64 knots 1-min sustained.
TS means Tropical Storm strength winds of at least 39 mph, 63 km/h or 34 knots 1-min sustained.
This alert is provided by Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) which is sponsored by UCL, Benfield, Royal & SunAlliance, Crawford & Company and Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre. TSR acknowledges the support of the UK Met Office.
The effort made by the initial PDORC Relief Team led by Joost de Bakker and by all those Volunteers involved in the first 10 days after the Cyclone hit in providing Urgent and Immediate Relief to those most affected, has been absolutely tremendous and we have been overwhelmed by so many generous donations both in Relief Aid to the PDORC Collection Depot and in monetary donations to the PDORC SA Gonu Aid Fund.
The PDORC SA has now taken over the Project and we are running it out of the PDORC Spouse Association Office (Gonu Aid Fund Control Centre). Could you therefore please put the following information on your home page and on the web.
The Help Desk for telephone enquires is manned from 8.00 am to 12 noon, Saturday to Wednesday. The Gonu Aid Control Centre Help Desk number to call is 24672926. For Out of Office enquiries, please contact Fiona Burr, Team Leader on 99268404 or Rosalind Brinkhorst, Coordinator/Fundraiser on 99207036.
For any monetary donations to the PDORC SA Gonu Aid Fund (in cash, by bar chits for PDORC members or by bank transfer) then please contact our Fund Accountant, Praveen Chandrasekhar for the correct payment process on 24675435. Alternatively, please follow the instructions given below:-
FOR INTER BANK TRANSFERS ONLY - NOT TO BE USED FOR CASH
Our bank details are as follows:
Name of Account : PDO Recreation Centre
Account number : 1032-115593-001
Name of Bank : National Bank of Oman SAOG
Branch : Mina Al Fahal, Sultanate of Oman
Swift Code : NBOMOMRXXXX
To be able to trace the Funds coming in to the Gonu Aid Fund, it is vital that you drop an email to the PDORC Accountant Praveen.Chandrasekhar@pdo.co.om, to let him know that you have donated.
We need to know the amount BUT WE DO NOT NEED TO KNOW YOUR NAME IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS! You can group together and send large amounts via one person if you prefer!
All small Cash deposits to be made to the Accounts Office to Praveen, PDORC Accountant only.
Bar Chits can be used by PDORC Members in the Accounts Office.
Once monies are received, if an email is received by Praveen informing us of the transaction, then you will receive a reply to thank and acknowledge your donation from the PDORC Spouse Association.
Should you require any further clarifications on the above, please don’t hesitate to contact me on the above email or to contact Praveen on 24675435.
The Gonu Aid Collection Depot (Falcon Room) for collecting donations of clothes, food, etc. will now be open from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm and will be manned in shifts. This is to enable people to drop after their office hours and to give more time for taking in donations. We are always looking for Volunteers to assist in the Aid Collection Depot with sorting and packing.
We have identified many Target Areas with groups of people who still require Urgent and Immediate Relief in the form of Food and Drinking Water. We will accept most dried foodstuffs, bedding, clothing, toiletries, baby items, etc. however, we have identified particular areas (ref. International Aid Agencies recommendations) of need for specific items for donation which are as follows:-
High Energy Foods: Coconut (milk/powder); nuts; cereals; dates; flour; rice
High Protein Foods: tinned meats (corned beef); tinned fish (sardines, tuna fish, salmon); Dairylea Cheese Triangles in boxes; hummus; nuts
Low Salt Items: Salt free crackers; sweet biscuits (with a lack of drinking water the salt intake has to be restricted)
High Water Content Food: tinned fruits (pineapple, mixed fruits); vegetables; beans
To open all the Cans we Can Openers!!
First Aid Kit:
Panadol Tablets; antibiotic ointments; antiseptic creams; bandages; hand wipes; alcohol sanitizer; antiseptic Lotion (Savlon); oral rehydration salts (any basic first aid item unopened and available off the shelf in the Pharmacy, that does not require a Doctor's prescription - please make sure the instructions are in Arabic as well as in English)
Baby nappies, Sanitary ware for women
Clothing for men, women, babies, shoes
Bedding, Sheets, Pillows, Blankets, Mattresses, Towels
Plastic Buckets with lids to store clean water, washing up bowls
Anti bacterial soap to help stop the spread of disease, toiletries, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo
Pans to cook food in, Ladles to give out food, washing up liquid
Cups, Cutlery, Plates, Wooden Spoons
Tea Lights or Candles
The PDORC are providing us with a supply of boxed Bottled Drinking Water which will also be distributed to identified Target Areas. We have also had some large donations of boxed drinking water supplied.
The Spouse Association has been buying large quantities of food from the Gonu Aid Fund, and packing it for distribution to Target Areas. However, no sooner than it comes into the Collection Depot, it is shipped out again. Therefore, we need everything in the way of food that you have to give so please send us whatever you would like to donate.
We also still looking for Volunteer Drivers with 4WD Vehicles and possible Omani Ladies willing to drive/accompany convoys to certain areas. If you are willing to lead or take part in driving in Convoy to our Target Areas then please contact us urgently.
Could you kindly send this email out to all your circulation lists and update any web pages or other media.
Very many thanks in anticipation of your continued support for the victims of Cyclone Gonu.
PDORC SA Secretary
Gonu Aid Fund Coordinator
For the more affluent, there was general relief when the management of 'The Wave' emailed those who have bought property in the development, to inform them that:
We are pleased to be able to advise you that our site and building works suffered little damage. The building program resumed on the 9th of June 2007, 3 days after the event, although it is not yet at full pace.Employees of The Wave were reported to be helping Muscat Municipality and various charity organisations.
None of the filled land flooded and the reclaimed area was undamaged. Despite the cyclonic conditions the surge did not cross the line of dunes, and the show apartments, which are right on the beach, were untouched save for some minor water leakage through the temporary air conditioning system.
On the other hand, "scores were reported to have lost all their household belongings and vehicles." Oman Observer 9th June. "Individuals suffered the biggest financial losses in the storm, as Gonu swept through residential areas, taking cars with it and leaving shops and houses damaged or destroyed, said Hamood bin Sangoor al-Zidgali, chief executive of Oman's central bank."
A photo in Gulf News of 14th June shows lines of volunteers organised by the private charity, Dar al-Atta'a, relaying provisions in Al Khuwair.
The charity coordinates with two relief camps set up at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex at Baushar and at the Mohanna Bin Sultan School.Many young Omanis have taken initiative to help the distressed including three youths who took a boat from Marina Bander al Rawdha to ferry supplies to Quriyat.
Ikhlas Al Hashemi, spokesperson for Dar Al Atta (House of Giving), said over 1,000 people are being provided shelter and food at these camps. "Our volunteers go from house to house to extend help wherever possible."
Ikhlas said response from the residents has been overwhelming. "People are coming forward wholeheartedly and a company even donated 10,000 Omani riyals for the relief work."
The Oman Observer of 11th June revealed that "thanks to a well belonging to the Wahaibi family, residents of Ruwi are getting enough water."
Water supply, according to Saeed Bin Mohammed Al Nabhani, Director General of Water Supplies at the Ministry of Electricity and Water, could take another three to four weeks to get back to normal? Why? According to an entry on a Facebook group, Together with Oman against Gonu , "the water supply will be back once some gas in the desalination plant has been pressurized bak to its normal level... and to do tht they hav to bring down some foreign company."
The International Herald Tribune, quoting an AP report, stated "The government has not asked for international help and did not accept the U.S. Navy's offer of aid."
The Ghubrah desalination plant manager Allen Conroy, told Oman Observer (published 12th June) that 90% of capacity had been restored.
Not widely reported, it's possible that the devastation was even worse in southern Iran where a man told the Gulf News that "every house in his hometown had been swept away by floods."
Published figures still put the number of dead in Oman as at least 49 - with more than two dozen missing. Again, friends in Muscat put the figure much higher.
The situation is still far worse in Quriyat and even in Sur where, although, there was not too much reported damage to infrastructure, people have been without food supplies and water for a week. Where there are shortages, so the price of available resources rocket. Bottled water, food, and bottled gas have all risen dramatically in price in the worst affected areas. Oman Observer, 12th June. One resident complained that when there was a food drop, crowds rushed in to claim them, creating havoc.
Amerat suffered most from being cut off from Muscat rather than from experiencing heavy damage to property. Traffic jams 3 lines thick, of cars taking relief to families in Amerat, formed on the graded track which has now been forged through Wadi Adai, once it was opened.
National Construction Company (NCC), which had been working on the dualisation of the Muscat-Al Amerat road, hadbrought its heavy plant into operation to create the road link. The company reports that the road between Amerat and Quriyat has been breached in numerous places and a bridge has been brought down.
Talking to Oman Tribune, HE Sheikh Seif Bin Mohammed Al Shabibi, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Housing, Electricity and Water, said "drinking water supply has returned to normal in Muscat adding that the grave damage to the connection network was hindering supply in the main tanks in some areas, but that severe damage to roads in Al Amerat and Quriyat was preventing specialised teams from access to connection networks, which had been hindering repair work."
Companies such as Lulu and McDonald’s Oman have been sending food parcels and blankets to Sur and Quriyat.
Nawras, Oman's second mobile telephone network, has been using helicopters not only to restore its communication network but also to distribute aid and connect generators with the voluntary assistance of its employees, giving credit to enable people to contact family and friends, providing Muscat Municipality with contact numbers, and providing SMS facilities for people to donate to Oman Charitable Organisation. The company has won a large number of customers as a result.
The military have taken charge of operations in Sharqiyah, clearing roads, airlifting supplies, installing water distribution points and providing medical services.
1,000 people turned up for the Muscat beach clean-up between the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the Ghubrah desalination plant on 14th June.
Following a meeting chaired by HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said on Monday, two royal directives creating two emergency committees, were announced.
The first will be headed by the Minister of the Diwan of Royal Court, with the task of assessing and inventorying of damage to citizens’ houses and properties. "The second committee, to be headed by the Minister of National Economy and Deputy Chairman of the Financial Affairs and Energy Resources Council, will be tasked with repair of the infrastructure, such as, roads, bridges, electric and water connections and other affected services, giving priority to implement these projects and taking into account good preparation for such circumstances in the reconstruction." Oman Observer, 12th June 2007.
His Majesty also announced the creation of a relief fund to which RO7 million was already committed, which will be open for donations. The Ministry of Education has reversed its previous decision to cancel exams. These will now begin on 23rd June.
The infrastructure committee met on 13th June under the chairmanship of Ahmed bin Abdulnabi Macki, National Economy Minister and Deputy Chairman of the Financial Affairs and Energy Resources Council. "Reconstruction works shall be allocated to local contractors and priority shall be given to infrastructure repairs and all other services instead of the ongoing seventh Five-Year Plan projects." Oman Observer, 13th June.
One assumes that local contractors are more immediately accessible than foreign contractors, and more answerable for any shortcomings.
What is becoming apparent is that it was not the wind and the rain that caused damage per se, but the flow of immense quantities of water from the mountains into the wadi systems.
"950 millimetres of rain which is four times the annual average [was recorded in Sharqiyah]. The highest amount of rain received in 24 hours, was also registered in Al Jabal Al Asfar station in Sharqiya region, which reached 842 millimetres. In the Interior, the Jabal Al Hail station received more than 194 millimetres, the highest in the region. Thirteen reserve dams across the Sultanate, received more than 37,9 million cubic metres of water that exceeded the capacity of these dams and created wadis and water streams." Oman Observer, 12th JuneHis Majesty also ordered that more attention needed to be given to building dams for flood protection. Oman has been building a system of recharge dams which also double as flood protection entities, but it seems clear that a considerably wider range of flood relief engineering options should be studied.
Friends tell me that the situation is probably rather worse than this brave face appears. The death toll is rumoured to be much higher than has been officially admitted, but since this is, as yet, unconfirmed, I don't like to put a number on it.
Four villages in the Quriyat area are said to have been inundated by mud and silt brought down by the wadis.
A Digital Globe image taken by the Quick Bird satellite of Sur on June 7th, shows large expanses of silt and mud both east and west of the town. The dam to the southwest of the town appears to be holding, with water flowing over it. The coast road to Qalhat has been breached and you can see water and mud continuing to flow to the sea. There is still no word from the Omani press about communications with Sharqiyah.
As I don't have a comparative 'before' image, I can't say whether buildings have been covered. You can detect flood waters around buildings, especially on the eastern side of the creek. NB. Jenna was right about Google maps. I have just checked on Google Earth. See comments below.
Damage to the Chedi Hotel in Muscat is so extensive that it is estimated that it will take five months to put right. People ask me what has happened to 'The Wave', the upmarket property development being built at Seeb, but I don't know - yet.
The Oman Observer reports that the Capital Market Authority (CMA) called a meeting of insurers together to urge the companies to resolve Gonu-related claims as quickly as possible. The initial estimate of damage is up to $1 billion, "with insurance firms likely to end up paying as much as half of this amount in insurance claims."
Another page with lots of images of the storm and the aftermath.
The Khaleej Times reports today that telephone lines have been restored, albeit intermittently, to Quriyat and Sur. It's claimed that Sur did not suffer as badly as the residents had feared although they were badly frightened by the storm.
I've compared the June 7th satellite image of Sur quickly with earlier imagery on Google Earth, and can't see any signs of major disruption in the region of Sur, or its hinterland, other than the break in the road to Qalhat. Flooding persists in the June 7th image in the old town bordering the creek.
The breakwater is intact, and you can see small boats sheltering in the harbour.
I suspect though, that date palm gardens inland have been covered with a layer of mud.
I'm not sure exactly what has happened in Quriyat which stands at the edge of the flood plain of Wadi Dayqah. We know that Wadi Dayqah, where a surface water dam is being built, can channel immense amounts of alluvium and water to the coast. Villages in the middle to lower reaches, such as Hayl al Ghaf, where there were mango gardens, have been destroyed.
A ship reached Quriyat with food and essential goods last Friday. Sur apparently remains without supplies although roads are still passable. Lack of usable domestic and drinking water is the biggest problem.
Masirah Island and Al Wusta, where the cyclone was originally predicted to make landfall, experienced only moderate winds and rainfall and have been relatively untouched. 90% of the population of 10,000 is said to have returned to their homes.
I've received these comments from a resident of Muscat:
"Despite the sangfroid of officials and people lucky enough to live outside the path of rampaging flood waters, it is clear that loss and damage is extensive. Eye-witness accounts tell of whole houses collapsing as fast-flowing wadis broke their banks, people swept away in their cars, a 4 year old girl sucked down into the mud and irrecoverable..........
Al Ghubra was particularly badly affected as waters held in check by Al Ansab dam burst through with a tidal wave effect for everyone living downstream. Our house was hit and our tenant submerged by a 6 foot wall of water [which] ripped away our boundary wall and crashed through the patio doors. Fortunately, she and her husband eventually fought their way to the stairs and first floor but it was by all accounts a very narrow escape and 5 days later they are still badly shaken. Two neighbours were not so lucky and were swept away by the waters.
It is difficult to see how people who have lost everything, even those that have jobs, can ever recover. Many Omanis were already living day to day in debt up to their eyebrows in debt. Apart from the costs to government of re-building infrastructure, the cost to the business and tourism sectors is likely to tip many start-ups and SMEs over the edge and cause foreign investors to think again!"
And from another, who I asked where people could send donations to:
"Unfortunately, our government is quite adamant to go it alone and is totally against outside donations. They aren't even allowing the expatriates in Oman to donate to the Oman Charitable Organization."
Which brings me to a considerable conundrum. What are the rulers of Oman doing? Only the Minister of Social Development, Dr Sharifa bint Khalfan al Yahyaeiyah, has reportedly made the effort to go and see damage in Quriyat at first hand and to speak to the residents there. She allegedly "asked all affected families for co-operation and solidarity." Does that count as giving support, or is it a way of telling people that they have to be patient? Translation from the Arabic often leaves something to be desired in the way of meaning.
Other countries would expect their top leaders to at least express solidarity with citizens by going to the scene of an emergency. Is that expecting too much?
Minutes after publishing this, I received a note that ministers have been going out daily. It's just not been reported. Abdullah Abbas, the president of Muscat Municipality, is the public face of authority.
What has this to do with Oman? There was never a mention of Cyclone Gonu and its associated devastation, either in Oman or Iran, on the main UK BBC news last week.
In fact, public comment abroad was largely reduced to the rise of the oil price to over $70 a barrel because production facilities had had to close down, and tankers were delayed leaving the Gulf of Oman. Jenna's link to The Oil Drum is perhaps worth reading in this regard.
49 people have been reported killed in the aftermath of Cyclone Gonu and 27 people are still missing, according to Oman News Agency. The Ministry of Information website cannot be reached at the time of writing. I have seen no published estimates of the cost of damage, but it is likely to be huge.
I still haven't seen any accounts of what has happened in Sur.
In Muscat, the coastal areas suffered most. Qurum, the Ministry area or Wazarat, Al Ghubrah, Azaiba and Seeb seem to have been badly hit with massive flooding, substantial damage and the loss of many cars and possessions. Road and seaboard infrastructure was also severely damaged around the coast from Muttrah to Old Muscat. 80% of the fishing hamlet of Yiti is reported destroyed.
As you can see from previously published photos, water levels were extremely high in places. The McDonalds at Qurum, which had stood at the edge of Wadi Aday, was almost completely submerged, as was much of Capital Commercial Centre (CCC).
Shopping malls in the vicinity of Sabco Centre suffered smashed windows as all sorts of movable objects were thrown against walls and glass. There have been reports of looting.
Madinat Al Sultan Qaboos, which stands on slightly higher and rising ground a kilometre or more behind the coast, seems to have largely escaped. Friends living there say that they experienced high winds and rain and power loss, which has now returned, but otherwise escaped the damage suffered elsewhere.
Of course, the coastal suburbs named have spread and sprawled across low-lying areas of the Batinah alluvial plain over the last 20 or so years, which is prone to flooding in heavy rain. Maybe the builders of MSQ were more mindful of the potential impact of natural disasters.
Lansab Dam was breached, releasing a great shock of water. It's said that a third of the dam was breached deliberately rather than having the whole dam destroyed and discharging even more flood water.
The big problem is water. Water supply pipes have been disrupted. "the pipeline that supplies gas to the Ghubrah power and desalination plant which produces 42 million gallons of water a day, [was washed away]. The plant is the main source of potable water for Muscat." Photos in yesterday's Oman Observer show streams of men and boys fetching water from distribution centres set up by the ROP and the armed forces. Some suppliers have tried to overcharge but the warning has gone out and people are being urged to report these to the authorities. Penalties for overcharging are likely to be stiff. National Mineral Water Company has also been distributing bottled water.
People with roof tanks have been relatively fortunate.
The road to Al Amerat through Wadi Aday was cut. A track is being graded adjacent to the road to try and reach communities at Al Amerat and beyond to Quriyat, which are said to have suffered very badly. The coast road that was being built between Quriyat and Sur is likely to have been washed away. A Muscat resident has remarked that the currently available road system is not going to be adequate to cope with the normal volume of traffic, even though the public holiday is officially over today.
Citizens are being urged to help with the recovery efforts. Several groups, including the Scouts and Guides have met the call.
The Khaleej Times reported that the Ministry of Education has cancelled all year-end exams in both Muscat Governorate and Sharqiyah until a date yet to be announced. That should at least relieve the school-run. TAISM and ABA have closed but British School of Muscat is soldiering on.
Muscat Securities Market remains shut as the Capital Business District is still without power.
A friend wrote: "Ghubrah was really badly hit with houses flooded, flying debris, cars upturned and smashed to pieces. A lady I know said it was frightening watching from the balcony the cars, water tankers, trucks... floating past and crashing against the cables of the building. She said everyone was terrified that the foundations would give.
The Chedi is a disaster area, the guests had all very reluctantly agreed to move shortly before the hit.I believe the manager took some after photos to show them it was not an unnecessary inconvenience."
'Royal Oman Police's Lt-Col Abdullah Al Harthy, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Control (NCDC), speaking to Oman Radio said, "We are still in the crisis stage. Our priority at the moment is to ensure that people don't die of thirst, lack of food or medical care. [ ] At the government level, we have stocks for the entire nation for six months... There will be no crisis of food. [ ] There is a lot that needs to be done... Everything will be fine within the next few days. We are nearly in the middle of it." Khaleej Times.
As it is, people are being reflective. The Khaleej Times quoted two people "It's a miracle that the cyclone weakened remarkably by the time it hit Muscat." ""If Gonu had struck us with its original speed of 260kms, think of the consequences."
Inspired by Jenna who left a comment saying that many videos had been uploaded to YouTube, I have put together a playlist of 24 of the uploaded videos, called The impact of Cyclone Gonu on Oman. This selection shows footage of Gonu in progress, and the aftermath with substantial damage to roads and communications. The subsiding flood waters have left 20cms of sediment in places. Much bigger boulders and rubble have probably been brought down by flash floods in the wadis. Homes have been flooded.
Gulf News reports that Oman News Agency has announced that "at least 32 people had been killed and 30 were missing."
I was rather bemused to note that people had actually gone out into the thick of the storm to film. It makes interesting viewing, but were they potentially adding to the work of the Civil Defence authorities? In Muscat, it seems that the easiest way to get around at the moment is by foot or in huge SUVs.
Power must have been restored to some areas if people are able to get back on to the Internet and upload their videos. All the footage is of Greater Muscat and environs. There is no news of what has happened in other parts of the country, such as Sur and Sohar.
The Tropical Storm Risk website no longer recognises any cyclones, so Gonu has petered out over Iran. The last map that I saw of wind affected areas, reproduced below, shows that Sur and its hinterland were hit by Hurricane Category One winds, which almost touched Muscat. Muscat itself lay in the zone of Tropical Storm winds.
More photos arrived in my inbox this morning via a private mailing list. I hope the sender will not mind my reproducing them here.
Damaged road at Al Khodh/Southern Marbela
A member of the Royal Oman Police uses a jetski to negotiate the floods and visit stranded householders
MacDonalds on the edge of Wadi Aday in Qurum almost submerged by the flood waters. How many other buildings have suffered similarly because they were built on land prone to flooding?
The Qurum high road to Darsait has been broken, where storm waters raced through a wadi
Qurum Park, a popular recreational area near the shore, and not so very far from the Muscat Intercontinental Hotel, completely under water.
Shara al Hub, the 'Love' Road. A branch of Starbucks is stranded on what is now an island in the middle distance.
"Gonu is expected to bring 1-minute maximum sustained winds to the region of around 120 km/h (74 mph). Wind gusts in the area may be considerably higher."
Read all about it.
I shall try to track the storm forecast.
Update on 4th June. The storm is now forecast to be on a more northerly track, so that it should pass over the Hajar Mountains south of Muscat. The severity of the storm has been upgraded to Very Severe Cyclonic Storm, where you can also see satellite photos.
Why should a storm be so interesting? Well, cyclones that 'hit' eastern Oman usually release a lot of rain. Al Wusta, the Interior region lying between the Indian Ocean and the Saudi border, relies on this rainfall to recharge wadi aquifers. Lenses of fresh water overlie saline groundwater. If the water supply in the aquifer is not kept in equilibrium, for example, the freshwater is over-pumped, the aquifer waters mix and cease to be usable as a freshwater supply.
If this cyclone is indeed going to take a more northerly track, it could produce results similar to the flooding events in northern Oman in March.
Update on 5th June. News reports say that the authorities have evacuated 7000 people.
At the moment, the Tropical Storm Risk website indicates that the eye of the storm Gonu will cross the Omani coast in the vicinity of Sur and take a more northerly track than predicted yesterday, over the Gulf of Oman, diminishing in intensity and then turning north to cross the southern coast of Iran.
But don't be distracted by the forecast track of the centre of the storm. It's the wind fields and the associated rain that you need to watch. At the moment, the forecast is that the area of intense wind and rain would take in all of northern Sharqiyah, the coast between Al Ashkhirah and Muscat and certainly as far inland as Nizwa.
You can see a dynamic map at this page.
In fact, the Indian Meteorological Service predicts a more southerly course for Gonu, which would take it right across northern Oman. Because weather systems are dynamic, it's impossible to say exactly what will happen.
In sh'Allah, the intensity of the storm will abate before it hits the coast and the track will move more to the north, but then somebody else will suffer the consequences.
Read the Reuters alert to learn about the degrees of storm and hurricane damage according to the Saffir-Simpson damage scale.
Update on June 6th. Overnight, Gonu is shown by available maps and satellite imagery to have tracked along the north coast of Oman from Sur towards Muscat, moving at around 15km/hour. The track has moved southwards from the route forecast yesterday.
This animation showing visible infrared satellite imagery is instructive, showing the course of the storm from yesterday. It appears to be being updated at hourly intervals with new data. http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/tropic/real-time/visir/indian/visirjava02A.html
At around 0200 UTC, Gonu appears to have 'split' into two, with two centres. The more northerly seems to have crossed the southern coast of Iran. The more southerly, and major centre is forecast to continue moving along the northern coast of Oman, skirting Fujairah and Musandam and then tracking north across the Straits of Hormuz into Iran. UAE is likely to be affected by the remnants of the system.
Originally categorised as a severe cyclonic storm, Gonu is likely to rapidly dissipate as it meets the hot, dry air over the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, and losing power over local upwelling of colder water downgrading to a tropical storm and then a tropical depression.
Wind speeds had been recorded of 140 to 167 km p hour but these are expected to die down rapidly to gusts of 56km/hour or less.
The media has been full of news of the impending storm for the last 24 hours.
The Omani press reported that the Civil Defence authorities had swung into action, evacuating people from low-lying areas, especially in Masirah and coastal areas of Sharqiyah. Many people removed themselves! Schools and government buildings were being pressed into action as refuges. Construction firms, such as Galfar, had issued orders that "every precaution be taken to ensure the safety of staff and equipment." That doesn't actually say Stop Work, does it?
PDO has suspended activity at least until Thursday. Interior regions are not expected to be as badly hit as the coast.
"In the Qurum area, shop owners were seen boarding up glass shop fronts and sandbagging entrances."
The Ministry of Health is on full alert, and stocks of food and bottled water have been laid in.
Meanwhile, Muscat waits. The Oman Observer reports that the storm is expected to reach the capital by this afternoon (1200 UTC). I've had an email which suggests that it has been raining all night, and a friend briefly online has told me that the storm is intensifying. The seas were reported to be raging last night.
Qurum and Madinat al Sultan Qaboos are without power. A friend suggested that this might be a planned outage, since the intake at the desalination plant would have to be protected against all the sediment churned up by the high seas. The Chedi Hotel has moved all its guests to the Radisson. The Royal Oman Police have closed all main roads.
At this time of writing, I have no reports of damage impact. That will come later. Flooding could be very extensive.
My thanks to Phillip Stallwood for the following photos:
Notice the construction workers on the fourth floor of this building block, watching the rain. Did they have anywhere else they could go?
Update on June 7th. Gonu tracked almost as far as Muscat before suddenly veering north across the Gulf of Oman yesterday afternoon. It lost a lot of power quite suddenly and is now ranked as a tropical depression. Even so, low-lying areas in southern Iran, which have also been suffering the brunt, have been cut off by flood waters,
Gulf News has photos of flooding and high seas in Fujairah.
This morning, I have no Oman contacts on line. I suspect power cuts and the BBC has mentioned water shortages. See the BBC video of flooding in Muscat. The Oman Observer has not been updated since yesterday, which also suggests loss of communications.
For a comprehensive report, see Storm lashes Oman, nears Strait of Hormuz as it heads toward Iran by Associated Press.
A Reuters alert published at 0720 GMT quoted a relief official as saying that at least 12 people had been confirmed dead as a result of the cyclone. This was updated later in the day to 20 dead in Oman and 24 missing.
Communications to the east of the country have been completely severed. Not even helicopters could fly during the storm. Muscat has lost power and communications, although there has been no reported damage to any oil and gas installations. Oil prices continue to waver with the prospect of tanker deliveries being delayed from the Gulf.
Relief efforts have been continuing. Muscat, it has been said, resembles a lake.
Two photos which arrived in a private mailing list this morning, as seen below, reveal what this means.
I think the rock fall shown is near the top of the pass from Wadi Al Kabir in Muscat to Al Bustan Palace Hotel. These images posted at Bhatkallys on 6th June.
Now the big mop-up. People have started returning to their homes. Flights from Seeb International Airport may resume on Friday 8th June, if conditions allow.
The announcement that Oman's aflaj system had joined Unesco's other 830 global world heritage sites came on the 13th of July this year, although the bid had been long in the running. Oman held a conference as long ago as May 2002 to gain international support for the recommendation. The International Conference on the Development and Management of Water Conveyance Systems (aflaj) was held under the auspices of Dr Khamis bin Mubarak Al Alawi, the then minister of regional municipalities, environment and water resources and was attended by "ministers, undersecretaries, officials from brotherly and friendly countries and representatives of participating regional and international organisations." Times of Oman, 20th May 2002.
I suspect that efforts to give Omani aflaj World Heritage status began long before that, during the incumbency of the now defunct Ministry of Water Resources, since the World Heritage inscription refers to the Ministry of Water Resources, and the maps defining the area of each falaj were produced in the GIS unit of the ministry between 1998 to 2000.
More recently, in April 2005, a former boss of mine raised the issue once more at a meeting in Russia to revise the executive regulations of the World Heritage Pact.
The wheels of bureaucracy grind exceeding slow.
Just five of Oman's 3,000 aflaj have been nominated, of which four are dawoodi (daoudi) aflaj, and one is aini. See my notes in an earlier entry for definitions. They are:
- Falaj Al-Khatmeen (dawoodi) - Birkat al Mauz
- Falaj Al-Malki (dawoodi) - Izki
- Falaj Daris (dawoodi) - Nizwa
- Falaj Al-Jeela (aini) - Sur
- Falaj Al-Muyassar (dawoodi) - Rustaq
(Gulf News, 11th December 2006, quotes Zahir Bin Khalil Al Sulaimani, Director General of Water Resources Affairs in MRMEWR, as saying that "currently 4,112 aflaj exist in Oman with an annual flow of 680 million cubic metres of water.")
The summary of the inscription states that these particular aflaj have been selected because they preserve the integrity of the entire falaj water management system, and also because they are subject to control by the Ministry of (Regional Municipalities, Environment and) Water Resources. That means that they remain a working, and viable water supply, despite drops in the groundwater table or supply of water to the spring in the case of Falaj Al-Jeela. Each falaj system preserves a network of watch towers to defend the community water supply as well as other buildings listed in association with the aflaj such as mosques, houses, sundials, and water auction buildings.
Aflaj (singular: falaj) are a fundamental Omani heritage, which have supported villages and communities for centuries. The village falaj was its lifeblood, literally bringing water right into the community for religious, domestic and agricultural uses. If the water supply to the falaj failed, so did the community.