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Cyclone Gonu weakens to a storm on way to Iran
DUBAI (Reuters) - Cyclone Gonu waned into a storm as it passed into a major oil shipping route toward Iran on Thursday, but killed 15 people and left a trail of destruction that halted Oman's oil and gas exports for a third day.
Gonu, which peaked as a maximum-force Category Five hurricane on Tuesday and faded to a Category One hurricane on Wednesday is now an ordinary tropical storm, experts said.
The storm's maximum sustained wind speed is now about 45 miles per hour, the U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center said, and it was likely to keep dissipating.
"As far as Oman is concerned it is over. Cyclone Gonu passed into the Gulf of Oman and is heading toward Iran but it is no longer a tropical cyclone," said Ahmad al-Harthi, head of Oman's meteorological department. "It caused a lot of havoc in terms of high seas, rain, winds and floods in combination."
An Omani relief official said 12 people were confirmed killed by the storm, which turned the streets of the capital Muscat into rivers, upturning cars and severing electricity and phone lines. The death toll could rise however, as relief officials said flooding was hampering access to some areas.
Three people were killed and nine injured in southern Iran due to the storm, Iran state television said. A disaster relief official in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan said there had been damage to roads, infrastructure and houses.
DISRUPTION TO OIL
The storm had raised fears of a disruption to exports from the Middle East, which pumps over a quarter of the world's oil, pushing prices to around $71 a barrel.
Mina al Fahal, the only terminal for Oman's 650,000 barrels per day crude exports, remained closed for a third day and the main liquefied natural gas terminal at Sur was unlikely to be operating either, a shipper said.
But Oman's refineries did not appear to have been damaged.
Further north, the United Arab Emirates' port of Fujairah, one of the world's largest ship refueling centers, reopened on Thursday morning after closing on Wednesday due to the weather.
Port director Moussa Murad said the port facilities had sustained no damages from high waves caused by the storm.
A senior Iranian oil official said on Wednesday the storm was not expected to disrupt supplies from OPEC's number two exporter as its main terminals were inside the Gulf waterway.
All Omani private and public sector institutions, including the stock exchange, were closed until Sunday due to the storm.
Ziad bin Karim al-Hirmi, CEO of Oman Air, told state television that it was ready to resume flights on Friday morning provided the airport had reopened.
Oman's central bank governor Hamood Sangour al-Zadjali said storm damage would not have a major impact on the economy.
Waves pounded the east coast of the UAE, forcing some people to leave their homes and guests to leave hotels on Wednesday.
Oman's weather centre, which has been keeping records since 1890, says Gonu could be the strongest storm to reach Oman's coast since 1977 though meteorologists say milder tropical storms are common in the region from mid-May to the end of June.
But whereas the 1977 storm took an inland trajectory toward rural areas, Gonu moved along Oman's heavily-populated coast, sweeping its main cities, industrial areas and ports.
(Additional reporting by Summer Said in Dubai and Tehran bureau)
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