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Yemen Braces for Devastation as Cyclone Chapala Nears

Cyclone expected to make landfall on Tuesday morning with record rain and hurricane-strength winds

A rare cyclone is expected to bring destructive wind and rain in the Arabian Peninsula. (Photo: CNN)

A rare and powerful cyclone tracking through the Arabian Peninsula is poised to make destructive landfall in Yemen on Tuesday morning.

Hours after devastating the nearby island archipelago of Socotra, where three were killed and more than 200 injured, Cyclone Chapala continues its rapid approach to the mainland, where meteorologists expect it will tear through the beleaguered region with record rainfall and hurricane-strength winds. It is also aiming to hit Oman, though fears of its impact there have diminished.

Global weather expert Dr. Mansour Al Mazroui told Gulf News on Monday that the cyclone may send a 400mm downpour onto the mainland in 24 hours—that's more than three years' worth of rain in a day, Al Mazroui said. As Weather Underground meteorologist Quincy Vagell explained on Sunday, such heavy rain increases the risks of "potentially catastrophic flooding."

On Twitter, updates on the storm came under the hashtag #CycloneChapala.

In the center of the bullseye is Al Mukalla, a Yemeni city with a population of about 300,000. Its seafront has already been destroyed by massive waves, according to reports from the ground. One resident, Mohammed Ba Zuhair, told Reuters that there has been no assistance yet from officials or the Al Qaeda chapter that partially controls the city.

"Many people have left their homes and are seeking refuge in schools," Ba Zuhair said. "No relief or aid efforts are under way by either the tribal council or al-Qaeda, and the situation is really bad."

Officials on Socotra also reported mass displacement and lack of humanitarian aid.

"Around 1,500 families have fled to the interior and to the mountains," said Mohammed Alarqbi of the Socotra Environment Office. "There's absolutely no help coming from the outside."

Waters in the Arabian Sea are currently experiencing record warmth, allowing for rare extreme weather events like this, explained scientists with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA).

It is believed to be the most powerful storm to hit Yemen in decades.

"A comparatively weak tropical cyclone in 2008 impacted Yemen with heavy rain and thunderstorms, causing 180 deaths," Vagell wrote on Sunday. "Chapala is expected to be considerably stronger, as forecasts call for the storm to maintain hurricane-equivalent intensity at landfall."

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