The buildings in Shibam are said to be in danger of collapse [AFP]
At least 24 people have been killed in flooding in Yemen, caused by heavy rains which swept through the southeastern province of Hadramaut, officials said.
The area has been declared a disaster zone.
Salem al-Khanbashi, the governor of Hadramaut, said on Friday that the bodies of 18 people who had drowned had been recovered in various parts of the region.
"Thirty hours of rains and floods have paralysed life here," he said.
A local official from the nearby province of Mahra also said a child was among six other people who died when four provinces in eastern Yemen were flooded in torrential rains that have lashed the region since Thursday.
According to a crisis cell set up to coordinate rescue efforts, the Unesco world heritage site of Shibam was totally isolated by the waters and its historic buildings are threatened with collapse.
Shibam, where more than 20,000 people live, is famous for its high-rise mudbrick buildings that have given the town the nickname of "the Manhattan of the desert."
Witnesses said that they saw bodies floating in streams swelled by a downpour that lasted for around 30 hours.
Local authorities said that more than more than 500 houses had been destroyed across the province of Hadramaut, where at least 3,500 people were made homeless.
A cargo vessel also ran aground off the port of Nashtun in Mahra, but all 17 crew members were rescued, a member of the crisis cell in said.
Local authorities said the floods caused heavy damage to roads and power and water distribution networks.
Five army helicopters were flown to the area to try to rescue thousands of people stranded by the floods, he said.
Helicopters belonging to oil firms operating in the area were also enlisted to help.
But gusty winds hampered rescue efforts and more rain was forecast in the next 30 hours.
The storm formed in the Indian Ocean this week, first headed to the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, then turned, weakened into a tropical depression and moved toward Yemen's southern coast.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, visited Hadramut's capital of Mokalla earlier on Friday to oversee rescue operations after tasking a government commission with handling the effort.
At least 25 people were killed in Yemen in April 2006 in floods and lightning brought on by torrential rains in eight provinces of the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.