The deluge in Jeddah

On Nov. 25, 2009, residents of Jeddah woke up to witness a flood disaster that most of them had never seen and others had not witnessed in over three decades. Torrential rain that showered for over six hours resulted in devastating flash floods that submerged most parts of East Jeddah. The flood disaster claimed the lives of at least 123 people and destroyed thousands of homes and vehicles. More than 15,000 families were left homeless, and the losses were estimated at billions of riyals.The disaster happened when the world’s attention were turned to the holy city of Makkah where more than two million pilgrims were heading for the nearby tent city of Mina for Arafat Day, the first day of Haj.

The heavy rains that fell on the eastern mountainous regions located between Jeddah and Makkah became torrential flash floods that rushed toward the Red Sea. The passages of the flash floods were obstructed due to illegal constructions on natural flood routes and thus changing the direction of floodwaters toward residential areas, turning several streets into raging rivers and causing devastation of districts located east of the Haramain Expressway.The torrential rain and flash floods turned out to be a catastrophe for the residents of many undeveloped districts in the eastern districts of the city, most notably Al-Harazat, Quwaiza, Sawaed, Kilo 14, Old Makkah Road, Kilo 6 and Jamia. Thousands of vehicles were swept away. Bridges were destroyed. Thousands of houses were ruined or completely washed away. Six hours of incessant rain caused massive devastation.The flood panic intensified with rumors about the possible burst of a dam at the Water Sanitation Lake, locally known as Musk Lake. The water level of the massive earth dam that holds the lake had risen to the dangerous mark. Civil Defense authorities warned residents in the area to evacuate their homes. The warning sparked panic and flight of residents elsewhere in eastern areas of the city.

In a decree issued a couple of days after the floods, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah noted that the disaster was not a result of extraordinary or out-of-control hurricanes or floods as we know them.“It was the result of a rainstorm that cannot be described as disastrous. It is painful that many countries, some with even less potential than the Kingdom, experience similar rainfall almost every day, but there are no devastation of the magnitude we witnessed in Jeddah, and that saddens us,” he said.King Abdullah ordered an immediate payment of SR1 million to the families for each person who died in the flood. He also directed authorities to provide housing facilities and allowances for those affected by the flood. The government announced compensation for all those affected by the disaster, including those left homeless or those lost their homes or vehicles.The most significant feature of the royal decree was the formation of the high-level investigation committee headed by Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal. The king ordered an investigation into the flooding in order to establish the causes and to try to determine who was responsible. The committee, comprised of representatives of the concerned ministries and departments, was tasked to conduct a thorough probe into all the aspects of the issue.The panel was asked to study the extent of the damage due to the calamity, the cause of the damages and to provide recommendations to avert future floods. The monarch authorized the investigation committee to summon officials for questioning, if necessary, and to form sub-committees to help in the process. The royal decree was issued five days after the calamity that struck the city. The king declared that those found responsible would be punished firmly.

After commencing its probe, the committee detained several senior municipal and government officials, prominent businessmen and contractors for their suspected negligence and corruption relating to drainage and sewage projects, illegal land deals and construction licensing.The investigating committee also examined all projects implemented in Jeddah over the past six decades for financial and administrative irregularities and corruption. Another committee appraised the losses caused by the flood before establishing the levels of compensation. More than 10,000 families stranded by the flood were given shelter by the government.As an aftermath of the flood disaster, the residents of eastern Jeddah heaved a sigh of relief when they got rid of the sewage lake forever. As per the directive of King Abdullah, the lake has been emptied in record time. A massive development plan is under way to renovate and refurbish the eastern districts in the near future.It is also worthy to note that a series of workshops and seminars were held in the months succeeding the disaster. A formal map of the valleys and flood passages in the region was unveiled. The authorities have also stopped issuing licenses to construct buildings at 76 areas in east Jeddah.

Four months after the floods taking place, the investigation committee completed its probe and Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, chairman of the committee, presented a report of its findings to King Abdullah in early March. After going through the report, the king issued a decree on May 9.“We do not fear blame of anyone as our faith, the country, and citizens are most precious to us,” he said.King Abdullah ordered the cases of all those accused of complicity in the floods to be sent to the watchdog for government employees and the national prosecution body.“All the accused in this case are to be referred to the Control and Investigation Board and the Prosecution and Investigation Commission according to the nature of the crime they have been accused of. This should happen after the urgent completion of procedures during criminal investigations,” the king said.The decree also urged that others mentioned in the report, including those not directly involved in the disaster, be investigated quickly.

The king also instructed the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs to extend three floodwater drainage canals to wadis in the east and extend the eastern flood canal to Obhur. Authorities were ordered to remove all obstacles in the floodwater canals immediately, while the governorate of Makkah and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs were asked to remove earthen embankments surrounding the land in paths of flood plains and wadis.Regarding those accused of complicity in the flood, their files have been referred to the Control and Investigation Board and the Prosecution and Investigation Commission. These bodies have completed reviewing the files of all those accused, and the cases of those with substantial evidence for their involvement have been moved to Jeddah Public Court to start trial procedures – Arabnews