Thousands of oil workers were evacuated from the coast of Oman today as the most powerful cyclone in 60 years roared up the Persian Gulf, pushing up oil prices.
Oil and gas exports from Oman were suspended for a second day and the major port of Sohar was closed as Cyclone Gonu headed north east towards the Straits of Hormuz, the strategic shipping channel.
After peaking as a category five cyclone yesterday, the storm this afternoon was 112 kilometers (70 miles) north east of the Oman’s capital, Muscat, and generating winds of 80mph (130kmh).
On a day when traders also learned that US refinery production fell slightly last week, the cyclone helped drive up oil prices by 39 cents to $66 per barrel on the New York oil futures exchange.
In the Gulf, the US military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre plotted the expected course of Gonu over the coming 48 hours, predicting a landfall on Iran’s east coast late tomorrow.
As heavy rains lashed down in Oman authorities closed all operations at the port of Sohar and evacuated the 11,000 workers, according to Dirk Jan De Vink, a spokesman.
Mr De Vink said that around 60,000 residents of Sohar were withdrawing inland, alarmed by storm surges and waves that have stranded oil tankers out to sea.
“These people know the force of the sea and they’re doing the right thing,” he told the Associated Press. “Most of them are leaving or have already left.”
In Muscat, the electricity failed at noon as winds of 62 mph (100kmh) struck the city. Oman television broadcast footage of streets and buildings flooded with water. Ali bin Gaafar bin Mohammed, a health ministry official, said rescue workers had difficulties reaching affected areas.
“Even helicopters cannot fly, so it is very difficult,” he said.
In the nearby Al-Amriyat town, a mudslide closed the road and flights in and out of Oman’s Seeb International Airport were cancelled Wednesday.
Further northeast, in the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, the world’s third-largest shipping fuel center, all refueling and ship-to-ship supply operations had been halted. Ships were being allowed to berth but other marine activities were suspended, officials said.