Salalah Anantara general manager recounts Cyclone Mekunu drama
The city of Salalah received the equivalent of five years' rain in the four days that Cyclone Mekunu battered its coast.
The general manager of a leading hotel in city has described how the resort coped with the strongest ever cyclone to hit southern Oman over the weekend.
British national James Hewitson, who runs Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, said it had been “a tough and a trying time” but the praised the staff and guests who were staying at the hotel when Cyclone Mekunu hit.
“We had 35 guests in the hotel. Civil Defence asked us to evacuate everyone to our staff accommodation building, which is furthest back from the sea. The team did a great job looking after them and we brought them back first thing yesterday morning (Saturday) as soon as the storm had passed,” Hewitson said.
Hewitson said the hotel is currently finding flights to get them home to alternative accommodation in Muscat or to their country of origin.
“They're predominantly European leisure tourists so they were here for a relaxing break. It's not relaxing at all at the moment with the ongoing weather. But they've had food and electricity and the internet the whole time so it's not been too bad; it has just been a little bit frightening.”
Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city located in the south of the country, received at least 278mm of rainfall on Friday night – almost four times the 70 to 90 mm it receives on average in a year.
“We knew the sea would be rough and it did indeed come up to the edge of the resort. But it was the volume of rain that was really the challenge. The rain and wind together blew through doors and windows and that was the same throughout Salalah," Hewitson said.
"It filled all the wadis and dams. We're about an hour away from the main dam by the airport. If that had burst then Salalah could have been washed away. But to be fair to the designers of the airport, it held and thank goodness it did.”
Hewitson, who was part of the Al Baleed Resort Salalah opening team in November 2016, praised the work of local authorities, saying: “The Ministry of Tourism has been fantastic. They've been on the phone every day, they came to visit twice. I also kept the communications to every four hours with the owners and every half day with the corporate office and it worked very well.”
More rain is expected in the coming days but the clean-up operation has already begun in earnest.
“The damage to the resort is mainly superficial. The beach obviously took a hammering. Obviously a lot of trees blew down and a lot of landscaping debris got blown around. I expect to be back up and running properly by next Saturday," he said.
"The weather forecast is for more rain over the next couple of days which will hamper us a little bit. But once the electrics have dried out we'll have fifty percent of the resort available along with two restaurants at the weekend and the third one next week. So we're getting there.
"I've got ministers and government officials coming down to see everything and needing somewhere to stay because all the other hotels are closed. My focus is to get the guests out of the hotel so they can relax. They have all been really good; they understood; they listened to what I asked them to do.”
Hewitson says Salalah is already getting back to normal.
“The emergency services did a great job. The wadis are obviously full of water but the new dams that were constructed after the last floods in 2011 really helped.
"The sea is very muddy and there's a lot of garbage floating around. But the army has been out clearing everything up. They've been out pumping the water out of the flooded areas in the roads, which are mainly accessible. The airport opened at midnight last night. Salalah town centre is fine. The supermarkets are open so food and water is available.”
Four deaths have been confirmed due to Cyclone Mekunu – including a 12-year-old girl who was hit by a door in high winds - while on the Yemeni island of Socotra, 250km south of the mainland, authorities have confirmed two deaths with more than 30 missing. Various other news reports put the death toll at ten people though this figure has yet to be confirmed.