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Cyclone Gonu Carves Path in Gulf


Cyclone Gonu has been downgraded to a tropical storm after slamming into the coastal areas of Oman and Iran, cutting a path of death and destruction, and disrupting a key link in the world's oil supply. At least 20 deaths were caused by the storm, which is the most powerful to hit the region in 30 years. Reporter Cache Seel has details from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

One man called into Omani National Television describing the destruction caused by Cyclone Gonu. The images being broadcast during the call showed Oman's capital, Muscat, buried under floodwaters and rivers of mud.

As the storm made its way up the Strait of Hormuz, which carries up to 40 percent of world oil supplies, analysts were jittery about its impact on oil prices.

On Wednesday, the storm disrupted the Mina al-Fahal terminal, halting exports of more than 650,000 barrels per day of crude. This was partly to blame for oil prices climbing to over $71 a barrel on Wednesday.

An official with the Gulf Agency Company, one of the world's largest shipping concerns, said their Oman offices were closed and port operations could take days to resume.

Oil prices pulled back below $71 a barrel on Thursday while officials turned to the evacuation of some 20,000 people in Oman. So far, at least 20 were killed including members of police rescue squads.

Originally classified as category five storm with wind speeds approaching 250 kilometers per hour, Gonu began weakening before it made landfall on the Omani coast. Wind speeds of 100 kilometers per hour were recorded in Oman's capital, Muscat, and 175 millimeters of rain fell in one 24-hour period, causing severe flooding.

Gonu continued to weaken as it approached Iran with wind speeds dropping between 50 and 60 kilometers per hour. The Iranian state news agency, IRNA, reports that nearly 40,000 people were evacuated from the coastal areas and at least two deaths have been attributed to Gonu so far. IRNA also reports that several villages have been surrounded by flood waters and relief supplies are being brought in by helicopter.

Images of heavy flooding are still being broadcast on Omani national television. Electricity and phone lines are still out in much of the country. Dozens of people are still reported missing and it is likely that as the flood waters recede the death toll will rise, officials say.

Cyclone Gonu is being reported as the most powerful storm to hit Oman since 1977 when more than 500 people lost their lives.