Oman has begun to clean up the damage left by Cyclone Shaheen, an operation that could cost the government millions of rials, The National News reports.
Recovery crews and utility workers have started work after the severe storm killed at least 11 people, destroyed homes, damaged infrastructure, and forced more than 5,000 people into temporary accommodation.
Most of the damage is in Oman’s Batinah region, in the towns of Al Musannah, Suwaiq, Saham, Khabourah, and Sohar, which were hit by 60-knot winds and 12-meter waves.
Towns were turned into “rivers and lakes” when the cyclone raged from Saturday to Monday.
Relief workers, a mix of municipality employees and volunteers, said damage to the Batinah region was extensive, and its restoration could take months.
“The clean-up includes removing uprooted trees, fallen street lights, broken telecom masts, vehicles stuck in the wadis, dead animals, rubbles from broken roads and bridges,” Mansoor Al Yahyai, 23, a university graduate volunteering in Khabourah, told The National. “Only then can we start the repair and the replacement of damaged equipment and infrastructure.”
On October 4, Sultan Haitham, the Ruler of Oman, called for a ministerial committee to handle the clean-up and coordinate emergency efforts. He said the repair of infrastructure and reconnection of electricity and water should happen as soon as possible.
As municipality workers move in to survey the damage, civil engineers said the cost of rebuilding the country’s infrastructure could reach millions of rials.
“We are talking about the damage of roads, bridges, power stations, electrical poles, water pipes, telecommunication facilities, state-owned buildings like ministries and schools, and more,” said Khalid Al Harthi, 72, a retired former civil engineer at the Ministry of Defence.
“My estimate will be anything between 30 to 50 million rials [$78m to $130m]. There is widespread damage out there, and I am not talking about private properties of ordinary Omanis who suffered the damages of their homes.”
The government did not release figures on the extent of the damage to private properties, but Mr. Al Harthi said at least 1,000 houses could be affected.
“If over 5,000 [people] were evacuated, then the fair estimate is around 1,000 houses that have been damaged. I am not even talking about farms and private businesses like shops or even vehicles,” Mr. Al Harthi said.
The government-owned Oman Charitable Organisation and Takaful Sohar have pleaded for private and public donations.
Most homeowners in Oman do not have house insurance, and many fear that money raised from private funds will not be enough to cover the repairs.
Ibrahim Al Shaibany, 67, a homeowner in Sohar, said: “My house is not insured, and I am retired. My roof is leaking, and the kitchen is flooded, and that is expensive to repair. I don’t think there will be enough money raised from private donations to cover all the damages of homeowners like me.”
Other homeowners pleaded for government help.
One said: “I really hope the government would help people like us. It is our homes that have been damaged, and we cannot afford to repair the damage. We just got back home from the shelter, and the repairs are significant and could cost up to 3,000 rials ($7,800).”
A search-and-rescue operation is underway to find people who are still trapped in flooded areas, and hospitals remain on high alert, Omani state television reported.
All schools and universities have been closed for the rest of the week to allow water on the streets to drain. The Ministry of Labour has asked employers not to ask people to return to work if they live in flooded areas.
On Tuesday, Sultan Haitham called on his Cabinet to form a committee to assess the extent of the damage.
The committee will look at the private properties affected by the storms to support homeowners and private businesses. The minister of finance will lead it, Oman TV reported.
“It was too early to reveal more information until the assessment has been completed,” a spokesman for the Cabinet of Ministers said.
Tropical Cyclone Shaheen ‘rare event’, say meteorologists
A cyclone expected to make landfall in Oman on October 3, which has already led authorities to remove residents from low-lying and coastal areas, is only the second tropical storm in recorded history to make landfall through the Gulf of Oman.
A tropical storm struck the Muscat area after entering the Gulf of Oman in 1890.
Tropical Cyclone Shaheen will follow a similar path through the Indian Ocean, said The National News Scott Duncan, a Scottish meteorologist.
Powerful cyclones such as 2007’s tropical storm Gonu have made landfall in the country via the Arabian Sea, causing severe damage and loss of life through flash flooding. Still, Muscat, home to 1.7 million people, was spared severe damage despite suffering power cuts.
Writing for Yale Climate Connections, an information service raising public awareness about climate change, meteorologists Bob Henson and Jeff Masters agreed, calling the Gulf of Oman unknown territory for cyclones and highlighting the event’s rarity.
The meteorologists said Gonu, the last significant cyclone to strike Oman, was a particularly powerful category five storm that caused $4 billion worth of damage and at least 50 deaths.
Gonu made landfall near Sur, about 200 kilometres south east of Muscat.
Shaheen is so far expected to be a category one storm on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale and the National Multi-Hazard Early Warning Centre at Oman’s Civil Aviation Authority said wind speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour are expected.
In contrast, a category five storm has wind speeds up to 250kph.
Authorities are taking precautions and on Saturday, the Omani National Committee for Emergency Management urged the relocation of residents in the northern towns of Barka and Saham and coastal areas, including parts of the capital, Muscat, where Shaheen is forecast to strike.
The Gulf has learned lessons from Cyclone Shaheen
Cyclones and severe storms are relatively rare in the region but can have devastating results when they do happen.
Tropical storms are such a rare occurrence in the Gulf of Oman that until this week, the last one to make landfall there was recorded more than 130 years ago. While the kind of low-pressure weather systems that tend to breed cyclones are a common occurrence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, rarely do they venture very far north. But Cyclone Shaheen, which developed out of a weather system in the Bay of Bengal, arrived on the northern coast of Oman on Sunday, creating havoc of a kind unseen in years. Solidarity with Oman during this time is felt throughout the UAE.
Recovery is underway, mainly in the worst-affected Batinah region, after the storm brought on heavy rain and winds of up to 120 kilometres an hour. It killed at least 11 people and forced more than 5,000 into temporary accommodation. The clean-up operation may cost more than $100m. Iranian rescuers have also retrieved the body of one of five fishermen who went missing in the waters surrounding Pakistan’s border.
The approach of cyclone Shaheen put the UAE on high alert this week. Warning messages were broadcast in 19 languages, part of a strategy that involved more than 100 local and national entities. In Al Ain, residents were warned that they may have to work from home and schools briefly switched to distance learning as precautionary measures. In the Northern Emirates, public gatherings on beaches were restricted. A broad social media campaign tried to reach as many residents as possible, reminding them of the danger that even slight rain poses; in downpours, police warn that accidents on the UAE’s roads typically happen every two minutes.
In the end, the Emirates avoided all but slightly increased winds and some wet weather. On Monday, the country’s National Crisis & Emergency Management Authority (Ncema) announced that the storm had “faded”, although it said it would continue to monitor the situation, National News states.
In 2007, category-five Cyclone Gonu – significantly stronger than Shaheen – hit the UAE after travelling overland across Oman from the Arabian Sea. In March 2016, schools were closed due to another major storm, which saw winds of up to 120 kph. Other parts of the Arabian Peninsula experience extreme weather events, too. In 2018, cyclone Sagar, which formed in the Gulf of Aden, killed at least 31 people. It gave nearby Somalia a year’s rain in a matter of days, displacing tens of thousands of people.
This underscores the need for bodies like Ncema, as well as Oman’s National Committee for Emergency Management (NCEM), to prepare for such situations, even when they are unlikely to happen. Ncema, moreover, has played a critical role in managing the COVID-19 crisis and showed its preparedness again during Shaheen.
The pandemic is still a more significant immediate concern than storms, which only rarely bring significant disruption to the UAE. But after this week’s difficulties, a silver lining is greater recognition of the country’s ever-developing ability to not just respond to disasters, but prepare for them, too.
Cyclone Shaheen: Central Bank of Oman announces recovery grants for those affected
Central Bank of Oman announces the allocation of 7 million Omani riyals to people who are affected by the tropical situation and calls on all banks to contribute to mitigating the repercussions of Shaheen.
“The Central Bank of Oman announces the allocation of fee income received by the Central Bank and banks operating in the Sultanate during the next five months, which is estimated at about 7 million Omani riyals, to beneficiaries affected by the tropical situation (Shaheen),” Oman TV news said in a statement.
The Central Bank confirms that it will coordinate with the government agencies concerned to transfer the amounts collected from these systems to the bank accounts designated to assist the affected.
The Central Bank of Oman calls on all banks to mitigate the repercussions of the tropical cyclone Shaheen on citizens, residents and their properties through a direct donation to the accounts designated for aid for this purpose and announced through the official authorities.
As we’ve written previously, cyclone Shaheen slammed into Oman on October 3 with ferocious winds and heavy rain, flooding streets, prompting evacuations from coastal areas, and suspending some flights to and from the capital Muscat.