Cyclone Mekunu is heading towards the Arabian Peninsula, as its outer bands dumped heavy rain and bent palm trees in Oman, after earlier thrashing the Yemeni island of Socotra.
At least 40 people, including Yemenis, Indians and Sudanese, were reported missing on Socotra, where flash floods washed away thousands of animals and cut power lines on the island in the Arabian Sea.
Officials feared some may be dead, while authorities in Oman confirmed the first death in the cyclone.
The cyclone is expected to make landfall early on Saturday near Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city and home to some 200,000 people close to the sultanate’s border with war-ravaged Yemen.
Conditions quickly deteriorated in Salalah after sunrise on Friday, with winds and rain beginning to pick up.
Strong waves smashed into empty tourist beaches. Many holidaymakers fled the storm on Thursday night before Salalah International Airport closed. The Port of Salalah – a key gateway for the country – also closed, its cranes secured against the pounding rain.
Streets quickly emptied across the city. Standing water covered roads and caused at least one car to hydroplane and flip over.
Later, a worker on a massive digger used its bucket to tear into a road median to drain a flooded street, showing how desperate the situation could become.
Omani forecasters warned Salalah and the surrounding area would get at least 200mm of rain, more than twice the amount of rain this city typically gets in a year. Authorities remained worried about flash flooding in the area’s valleys and potential mudslides down its nearby cloud-shrouded mountains.
A sizable police presence fanned out across Salalah, the hometown of Oman’s longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
The Royal Oman Police later said a 12-year-old girl died after winds from the cyclone threw her against a wall.
As torrential rains poured down, local authorities opened schools to shelter those whose homes are at risk. About 600 people, mostly labourers, huddled at the West Salalah School, some sleeping on mattresses on the floors of classrooms.