Arab states continue to pound Yemen port

Arab warplanes and warships have pounded Houthi positions in Yemen's Hodeidah for a second day as a Saudi-led alliance try to seize the main port in the largest battle of a war that has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations is struggling to avert disruption to the port, the main lifeline for food aid to a country where 8.4 million people are on the verge of starvation in what potentially would be the world's worst famine for generations.

The Arab coalition also struck the main road linking Hodeidah to the capital Sanaa to block reinforcements, residents and anti-Houthi Yemeni military officials said.

The Iran-aligned Houthis control the capital and most of Yemen's populated areas. The Arab states have been fighting since 2015 to unseat them, restore an exiled Saudi-backed government and halt what they see as Iranian expansionism.

"People are scared. The warships are terrifying and warplanes are flying overhead all the time," university student Amina, 22, who lives near the port, told Reuters.

"People are fleeing the city to the countryside, but for those with no relatives there or money, there is no escape."

Capturing Hodeidah, the Houthis' only port, would give the coalition the upper hand in the war, in which neither side has made much progress for years.

Western countries have quietly backed the Arab coalition, but the threat of humanitarian catastrophe on an historic scale could unravel that support. The UN says 22 million Yemenis need humanitarian aid.

The number at risk of starvation could more than double to more than 18 million by year end, unless the situation improves.

The Arab states say they have plans in place to prevent the battle from causing a humanitarian disaster. They have long been restricting imports into Hodeidah to prevent what they say is Iranian traffic in missiles to the Houthis, and say they can swiftly improve food supplies once they control the port.

Ali al-Ahmed, the Emirati Ambassador to Germany, told Reuters there were 60,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid ready on ships and trucks to move into the region once the fighting died down.