In the end, at least as far as Muscat is concerned, Cyclone Phet was nowhere near as nasty as Gonu, neither in duration, wind speed, rain nor impact. For the town of Sur it was probably worse, as Sur was directly under the eye of the storm as it grazed the eastern most tip of Oman. Sur had a record of over 40cm of water recorded. The town was mostly underwater by Friday pm.
And pity the unfortunate villages of Quriat and Tiwi, hit hard by both Gonu and now by Phet.
The latest official number of deaths due to Cyclone Phet was 24, as of this morning's Times of Oman. The low death toll was helped by the cyclone pretty much missing the more densely populated Batinah coast (of which Muscat is the south-eastern part); the advanced warning being taken more seriously by offials and populace alike; and learnings from Gonu. The official evacuation of Masirah Island and the Eastern Coast saved a lot of lives.
Official deaths from Gonu were just 49, but this number was an early one, never officially updated, and reliable unofficial numbers of Gonu deaths range from at least 500 to over 1500. So, it does seem on this score Phet was a lot better than Gonu.
This time most of the deaths were due to local people who were drowned in Wadis (either unknowingly there or stupidly going to watch the floods). I guess many locals surprisingly don't know what a flash flood is. Perhaps this is a side effect of urbanisation. A few more were killed attempting to drive cars across flowing wadis, in the mistaken belief that a Toyota 4x4 (or even Echo) is the hydrodynamic equal of an amphibious 50 tonne tank.
Photo: A Russian T90 can cross standing water. Note the many features that are unlike a Toyota Echo.
A few other unfortunate people got electricuted, probably caused by the useless standards of most Omani houses' electrical systems, and the fact that windows and roofs here are designed or at least 'engineered' (and I use the term loosely) to be ... er, sand proof, rather than water tight.
Oil & Gas
Even Gonu had little impact on oil production, but the Phet effect was even less. My sources in PDO, and official statements. confirm oil production was unaffected. There was a pause of a couple of days of oil export, from crude tankers being able to load because of the 4m swells, but crude oil exports resumed this afternoon as normal. There was no real damage to any key oil infrastructure. Petroleum Development Oman had learned a lot from Gonu and was apparently well prepared.
The 3 big LNG trains at Sur were shut down just in time. I don't know the extent of the damage, but as long as nothing big happened, there will be no impact on LNG export volumes to Korea either. The 3 trains (2 Oman LNG, 1 Khalhat LNG) have 20%++ excess capacity (their capacity is constrained by available gas supply provided by the Government) and as a result will be able to catch up for any shut down quite quickly.
Gas supply to the coast and power generation was also not impacted.
People who watch Oman TV and read Arabic got a few days notice and almost constant updates (including video footage) once the cyclone started to impact Oman. During Gonu the Government seemed to think that not telling anybody anything would somehow ... I don't know, make it all go away or something? This time officials seemed willing to accept that mother nature was bending us over the table.
But a LOT of the expat community knew almost nothing about the coming cyclone until Wednesday or even Thursday. This state of affairs needs correcting fast Ministry of Information. At least (the now 2 one State, one private) English radio stations were giving regular updates (if pretty bland). But anything in Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog - niet.
The Meterological Office could do to find someone with actual fluent English to go on radio. Official English TV news every day at 8:30pm may be OK normally, but in a crisis this needs changing to a minute or two hourly. English subtitles would help in general.
That the hit counter here at Muscat Confidential went through the roof (4000+ page views a day vs. a typical day's 1200), presumably represented mainly people desperate just to get news of Cyclone Phet. As such my numbers may more represent the dirth of reliable english language Government info than the core popularity of Muscat Confidential. (But hey, a lot of those visitors ended up joining the excellent MC Facebook fan page, so I'm not complaining.)
Government use of the internet could improve a lot to help get info across, in an age where even semi-smart phones can surf. There was 1 txt in the whole 3 days, just giving phone numbers for search and rescue. 1 lousy text.
Well done to OmanHel and Nawras for keeping the 3G+ networks going all the way through though.
This was hopefully a damn good wake up call to the Government for getting a move on with completing the long delayed earth works and other projects triggered by the catastrophe of Gonu (it was, afterall, 3 friggin' years ago!). If Phet had hit us full on - as a Cat 1 or 2 Cyclone (while Gonu was just a severe tropical storm) - things would not be so pretty. Let's not even think of a Cat 4 or 5...
Existing dams are inadequate and their slip-ways totally unable to handle the debris and water volume of such storms. In their present state, in a big storm, the dams would be a danger, not a help.
The big wadi crossing motorways are not finished. The main Batinah wadis (Qurm, Adai, Ghubra, etc) have not been turned into proper, deep, concrete lined mega-drainage ditches to the ocean.
People continue to be allowed to build significant new buildings in the major wadis and flood plains because of wasta and ill-defined rules.
The airport could have been closed for a long time, and can the new one being built really handle 300mm per day of rain for 2 or 3 days?
There is little weather-proof core redundancy in the power grid. Etc etc etc.
Oman these days is obviously in a period of world weather when we should expect such cyclones regularly. Gonu was not a 'one in a 100 year' event. We get cyclones now chaps. Better start dealing with it with proper engineering.
Overall - we were just lucky. There remains a huge amount to be done to prepare for the next Cyclone, some of it (like the communications) can be done almost instantly.
It's time to get on with it.
In other news,
Essa indeed spent his ghost-written weekly rant on the shameful and incompetent Israeli attack on the Gaza Flotilla. Not on the death toll on the roads, not on the Cyclone, not on the poor state of Omani employment, nor our pitifully poor education system; not on the lack of any meaningful support to Gaza by Oman or in fact by any Arab nation. (note, Hamas is not really a big fan of the Gulf States either). No, not even an incisive view on the imminent largest bankruptcy in Oman's history (Blue City).
He also blames the US for the attack.
People might like to consider the main provider of aid to Gaza: the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.
... the chief U.N. agency in Gaza is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA. Love or hate it--and I am no fan--UNRWA, according to its website, is "the main provider of basic services--education, health, relief and social services--to 4.7 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East." Many of those Palestinians live in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. But Gaza is the core of this operation. UNRWA‘s headquarters are in Gaza, where 1.1 million Palestinians--the bulk of Gaza's population--are registered on UNRWA's refugee rolls and eligible for its services.From Defend Democracy.org
UNRWA gets 98% of its funding from voluntary donations, mostly from U.N. member states. Turkey looks like a great candidate to be a big donor. In 2008 Turkey's economy was ranked by the World Bank as the 17th largest on the planet. Given the Turkish government's professed interest in the welfare of Palestinians, you might suppose that Turkey would be among the top 10 state donors to UNRWA? Or at least the top 20?
Turkey doesn't even make the cut.
The largest donor to UNRWA is the U.S., which in 2009, according to UNRWA's statistics, gave $268 million. Next is the European Commission, which in 2009 gave $232.7 million. Together, the U.S. and E.U. account for almost half of all UNRWA funding. Other major donors include the U.K., Spain, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and Germany. Or, if you want to measure in terms of donations per capita, notes UNRWA on its website, "Scandinavian countries top the list," with Sweden in 2009 giving $48.6 million, Norway $39 million and Denmark $19.9 million.
Among UNRWA's top 20 donors for 2009, there are only two countries from the Middle East: Kuwait, which in 2009 gave $35.5 million, and Saudi Arabia, with $27.6 million.
Oman, by the way, in 2009 donated a grand total of $930,700 bucks, the equivalent of less than 2% of just 1 day's worth of our oil production. The full list of 2009 donors is here.
So that's alright then. Cheap printed polemic really helps feed the starving kids of Gaza, doesn't it?