May 24, 2018 / 8:16 AM / a month ago

Tropical storm hits Yemen's Socotra, state of emergency declared

ADEN (Reuters) - Yemen declared a state of emergency on the island of Socotra on Thursday as a tropical storm intensified after flooding several villages and capsizing boats to leave at least 19 people missing, government officials said.

Socotra, which lies between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, has been largely untouched by Yemen’s three-year-old war. It is under the control of the internationally-recognised government whose president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The island “requires urgent aid to help people stranded in their villages or those who reside in the mountains,” government spokesman Rajeh Badi told state news agency SABA.

Nineteen people were missing after seven boats capsized and three cars were washed away by floods, said one Yemeni government minister, adding that evacuations to shelters are still under way in the island’s capital. Another official said more than 200 families had been evacuated from their villages.

The storm is worsening and most parts of the island have lost communications, said the governor of the nearby province of Hadhramaut.

The same weather system hit the Horn of Africa on Wednesday, killing more than 50 people in Somaliland.

Yemeni government spokesman Badi called on international humanitarian organisations and the Riyadh-led military coalition participating in the war to provide urgent aid to the island, where Saudi and UAE forces have a presence.

Coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said late on Thursday that the coalition is coordinating with the Yemeni government and humanitarian assistance will reach the island on Friday morning, Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya reported.

The Saudi ambassador Mohammed al-Jaber said tens of thousands of tons of relief, shelter and medical items are being prepared to be transported to the island, provided by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre.

The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore Hadi’s government, toppled by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

The storm is expected to hit southern Yemen and the coast of neighbouring Oman on Thursday, Oman’s state news agency reported.

It said Omani authorities evacuated hospitals in Dhofar province and other areas bordering Yemen, while the Public Authority for Civil Aviation said the country’s second largest airport, in Salalah, would be shut for 24 hours from midnight (2000 GMT).

Yemen is already grappling with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The war has killed more than 10,000, displaced three million people, triggered a cholera outbreak and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of starvation, according to the United Nations.

Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Sarah Dadouch in Riyadh; editing by Ghaida Ghantous, John Stonestreet and Gary Crosse

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