A powerful cyclone has already started wreaking havoc in Yemeni waters, killing at least three people and injuring about 100 on the island of Socotra, as it tracks steadily towards the country’s coastline.
Cyclone Chapala, which has formed in the Arabian Sea, destroyed more than 100 homes on the island on Sunday, as it also uprooted trees and sank fishing boats, sources told Al Jazeera.
The US Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) reports that Chapala is expected to make landfall at about 06:00GMT on Tuesday morning.
The JTWC reported that the storm system was tracking a path that would take it close to the Yemeni port city of Mukalla, which has a population of about 300,000 people.
“The cyclone is the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds of 195 km/h, gusting 240 km/h,” Al Jazeera’s meteorologist, Steff Gaulter, explained.
By the time it makes a landfall, however, Chapala is expected to weaken to the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane.
“But while the winds are easing, the rain and storm surge will still cause a major problem for the coast of Yemen,” Gaulter said.
“Due to the way the winds flow within a cyclone, the water will be pushed towards the city as it moves past, so there will still be a storm surge for Mukalla – potentially up to 2 metres. There could also be up to 500mm of rain in the hills around Mukalla, which will cause flooding and landslides.”
Chapala is expected to dump up to 500mm of rain on Mukalla – more than seven times its average yearly rainfall of 70mm.
Weather Underground meteorologist Quincy Vagell wrote on Sunday night that “potentially catastrophic flooding is feared [in Yemen] as heavy rain will hit an area that is typically arid”.
“A comparatively weak tropical cyclone in 2008 impacted Yemen with heavy rain and thunderstorms, causing 180 deaths,” he wrote.
“Chapala is expected to be considerably stronger, as forecasts call for the storm to maintain hurricane-equivalent intensity at landfall.”
Damage to Socotra
On Socotra on Sunday, about 9,000 people were transported from their homes to safer areas by authorities, said Socotra Deputy Governor Ramzi Mahfouz.
The plight of those facing the disaster has been compounded by a shortage of fuel on the island that the island has faced over the last 20 days, he added.
Mohammed Salmein, a resident of the island, said locals had not seen such strong winds and rainfall in decades.
“We are expecting a true disaster to befall us,” he said.
Socotra’s island is situated in the Indian Ocean, about 368km off the coast of Yemen’s mainland. It is known for its unique vegetation and ecosystems, including rare dragon blood trees.