Powerful storm approaches Oman

Government authorities started evacuating nearly 7,000 people from an easternOmani island as a powerful cyclone headed toward the country.

General Malik bin Suleiman al-Muamri, head of the country's civil defense, told reporters that Cyclone Gonu was forecasted to first hit Oman on Tuesday, with the most powerful portion of the storm expected Thursday.

Al-Muamri said the storm, which is heading northwest through the Indian Ocean toward the east coast of Oman, was expected to send waves reaching 10 meters (33 feet) against the shores of Masira island, necessitating Monday's evacuation. Some 500 people were killed on Masira island when a cyclone hit in 1977.

According to Weather Underground meteorologist Tim Roche, Gonu currently has winds of 260 kilometers per hour (160 miles per hour), with gusts up to 315 kilometers per hour (195 miles per hour).

Roche reported that Gonu is forecasted to hit Oman with sustained winds of around 185 kilometers per hour (115 miles per hour), before moving north over the Gulf of Oman into southern Iran. With those wind speeds, the storm would be the strongest cyclone to hit the Arabian Peninsula in recorded history (since 1945), he noted.

Oil prices edged upward Monday as the storm headed toward the oil-rich Persian Gulf area, but Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, doubted the increases could really be attributed to Gonu.

"I don't know if you can really attribute any of the gain to the cyclone," he said. "It's an excuse, as opposed to a reason, for the rise in prices."

To reassure both its people and the oil markets, Saudi Arabia's government issued a statement Monday saying the cyclone would have no "direct effect on the central and eastern parts of the kingdom."

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