By Noah Browning
DUBAI (Reuters) - A second extremely rare and powerful cyclone in two weeks battered the Yemeni island of Socotra with hurricane-force winds on Sunday, killing a woman and causing around 5,000 people to flee their homes, a local official said.
The new storm, called Megh, comes less than a week after Cyclone Chapala killed 11 Yemenis on Socotra and the mainland, dumping nearly a decade of average annual rainfall on the impoverished and war-torn country in just two days.
"A woman in her forties died when her home collapsed on her, and four others were wounded ... Cyclone Megh is several times worse than Chapala because it is passing directly over Socotra," said Mohammed Alarqbi of the Socotra Environment Office by telephone from the island's stricken provincial capital, Hadibu.
"The material damage is also worse than before, as a larger number of homes have been destroyed and 5,000 more displaced people have fled the northern shores of the island to schools, universities and hospitals," he added.
Megh is expected to hit Yemen's coast east of Aden as a severe cyclonic storm around 1200 GMT on Tuesday, with sustained winds of 90 km-120 km (56-75 mph), according to the World Meteorological Organization.
The U.N. humanitarian coordination office said over 230,000 people on Yemen’s mainland would be exposed to high winds and heavy rainfall, with the governorates of Abyan and Al Bayda most at risk.
Aid efforts in Yemen are hampered by a seven-month war between a Shi'ite militia based in the capital Sanaa and forces loyal to the exiled government backed by Gulf Arab states.
Planes bearing food and tents from Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have arrived on the island in recent days.
More than a third of Socotra's population, 18,000 people, were displaced by Chapala, according to the United Nations.
The freak back-to-back storms are caused by the "Indian Ocean dipole," a weather phenomenon similar to a regional El Nino, caused when surface sea temperatures are higher than normal.
Socotra, 380 km (238 miles) off Yemen in the Arabian Sea, is about the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island and home to 50,000 residents who have long been isolated from the mainland and speak their own language, Socotri.
Sometimes likened to the Galapagos islands, Socotra hosts hundreds of unique plant species.
But Alarqbi of the Environment office said the storms have damaged reefs, eroded soil and uprooted many rare plants including the already threatened and otherworldly looking "dragon blood" trees, whose red sap gives them their name.
The U.S. Navy's Pearl Harbor-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center said the storm had reached maximum gusts of 232 km (144 miles) per hour, equivalent to a category 4 hurricane.
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Digby Lidstone and Andrea Ricci)