3 november 2015

Cyclone Chapala dumps years' worth of rain in Yemen, causing extensive damage

By Andrew Freedman, Mashable, October 3, 2015

The first hurricane ever to hit Yemen in recorded history arrived early Tuesday morning when Tropical Cyclone Chapala hit the city of Mukallah, bringing with it unprecedented flooding in an area already suffering from a war-related humanitarian crisis.

The storm may have already dumped a decades' worth of rainfall in some parts of this arid nation.

As the rare and intense storm moved closer to the mainland the day before, it killed one person and injured nine on the remote Yemeni island of Socotra.

The storm was predicted to bring catastrophic amounts of rain to the area — it could end up being a decade's worth of rain — at least 20 inches — over the course of just a day or two in an area that typically receives just 2 inches of rain annually.

According to freelance reporter Iona Craig, who is in Yemen, the Ministry of Fisheries has released preliminary figures from coastal Hadhramaut, where the storm made landfall, reporting 25 injured, 21 missing, and more than 50 homes destroyed.

Mukalla has a manmade canal that runs into the heart of the city, which has turned into a raging river due to the heavy rains, Craig wrote in a Twitter message exchange with Mashable.

Storm recovery there will be challenging because the city is under the control of militant groups. "There is no state in Mukalla, Craig wrote.

"There's was basically no preparedness," Craig wrote. "Al-Qaeda posted pictures in the hours before landfall of a team of rescue vehicles," she wrote. "In practice those won't heave been much help in floods."

Aid organizations have not yet been able to access Mukallah, according to Paul Critchley, Mercy Corps’ Yemen Country Director, who spoke with Mashable by phone from Jordan. He said his staff and people from other organizations are waiting in Aden to be able to travel to Mukallah and determine what assistance is needed.

“Whilst we’re preparing to provide food and nonfood items, we desperately need to get in there to do a needs assessment to determine what the needs are and what we are able to do as quickly as possible,” Critchley said.

He said the lack of precedent for a storm of this magnitude hitting Yemen makes the situation especially precarious.

“They have no records of cyclones hitting Yemen… this is gonna be on top of everything else the people are facing, this is a danger that is very new and different to them, with all the fears that go with that.”
Worst-case scenario

The storm followed the worst possible path for the city of Mukallah, passing about 25 miles southwest of the city. This put the city in the storm's most dangerous right front quadrant, where the onshore winds and storm surge were maximized and the air flow was directed up against the east-west oriented mountains located just inland from the city.

This helped enhance rainfall amounts in the higher elevations, though official observations are few and far between, considering that the country has just 7 weather observing stations nationwide, and these have not been reporting consistently.

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