MUSCAT, Oman (AP) — Cyclone Gonu battered Oman’s coast yesterday with fierce wind and torrential rain, forcing thousands from their homes and shutting down oil installations before heading toward the world’s most important crude oil tanker route.
The storm — a rarity in the Middle East — was expected to make landfall on the southeastern Iranian coast late today, according to the U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center. But it was likely to spare Iran’s offshore oil installations, which lie more than 120 miles to the west.
The cyclone lashed Muscat as a force of nature rarely seen in the quiet seaside capital. Police and emergency vehicles could hardly move through the flooded streets, and authorities used text messages to warn people to keep away from low-lying areas.
The storm caused little damage to Oman’s relatively small oil fields. But roiling seas prevented tankers from sailing from Omani ports, effectively shutting down the country’s oil exports, said Nasser bin Khamis al-Jashimi of the Ministry of Oil and Gas.
Authorities also closed all operations at the port of Sohar and evacuated 11,000 workers, port spokesman Dirk Jan De Vink said.
To the north, the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates suspended all refueling and ship-to-ship supply operations at the world’s third-largest shipping fuel center. Ships were allowed to berth, but other activities were halted, causing a delay in loading oil tankers, officials said.
A few ships were sailing through the nearby Strait of Hormuz despite 4- to 6-foot swells and strong winds, said Suresh Nair of the Gulf Agency Co. shipping firm. About one-fifth of the world’s oil passes through the narrow waterway at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
“About 17 to 21 million barrels a day of oil are coming out of the Persian Gulf. Even if only some of the tankers are delayed, that could reduce the supply of oil and increase prices,” said Manouchehr Takin, an analyst at the Center for Global Energy Studies in London.
But Tim Evans, an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets, said the storm shouldn”t have a major impact on prices because, although it may delay oil shipments, they will eventually get to their destinations.
Oil prices rose 35 cents to $65.96 a barrel in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after initially falling.
The Joint Typhoon Warning Center said the storm had maximum sustained winds of about 80 mph — the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane but well below the wind speeds that were recorded as the cyclone approached the Arabian Peninsula.
Even with the weaker wind speeds, Gonu, which means a bag made of palm leaves in the language of the Maldives, is thought to be the strongest cyclone to threaten the Arabian Peninsula since record-keeping started in 1945.
Flights in and out of Oman’s Seeb International Airport were canceled.
Iranian officials said, however, that the cyclone was unlikely to threaten the country’s oil platforms and installations in the Persian Gulf because they are located far from its path.
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