Flood-hit Jeddah still in shock

JEDDAH: Jeddah residents heaved a sigh of relief Thursday as nature showed mercy toward them with clear skies, allowing Civil Defense officers and hundreds of volunteers to confront the aftermath of Wednesday’s tropical deluge that swamped most of the city – some parts worse than others.

The official death toll stood at five, though no other details were available on deaths or injuries.

Dozens of residents were still searching for their missing friends and relatives more than 24 hours after the rains stopped.

The city was in total chaos after the heaviest downpour in 17 years as described by some local residents. Traffic came to a standstill and long lines of people walked home, abandoning their vehicles in water.

Palestine Street, Madinah Road, Wali Al-Ahad Street and the entire Bani Malik district were either flooded or jammed with traffic. Cars could be seen swept away by fast flowing rainwater in some areas. Five historical buildings in the Balad district also collapsed as a result of the rains.

Helicopters hovered over the areas most affected by the rainwater runoff on Thursday, lifting people off rooftops in approximately 1,500 operations. Amphibious teams were dispatched in dinghies. At least 951 stranded people were rescued by the afternoon. Four hundred and sixty-six of them were airlifted off rooftops. Helicopters also rescued girls and staff marooned in the Dar Al-Hekma College at around 1 a.m. Thursday morning.

Civil Defense staff were provided additional support by colleagues from Makkah and Taif in addition to divers of the Saudi Emergency Force from the provinces of Riyadh and Asir. “These support forces are specially trained to deal with conditions related to running and stagnant waters,” said Civil Defense Director-General Lt. Gen. Saad Al-Tuwaijri.

Electricity went out for 669,638 subscribers, most of whom still did not have power Thursday evening.

Brig. Muhammad Al-Shuaibani, director of water-borne rescue operations, said many people were trapped as a result of the failure of a section of a 70-meter berm in Um Al-Khair in east Jeddah that was erected to protect residents from flash floods. About four meters of the berm collapsed from the surge.

The Meteorology Department of King Abdulaziz University registered 114mm of rainfall in four hours on Wednesday morning. In the Nov. 25, 2009 floods, approximately 90mm of rain fell in about three hours. Earlier this month, 45mm rain fell in a few hours. The average rainfall in Jeddah for the winter months (November to February) is about 51mm.

Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif said late Wednesday an emergency meeting of ministers concerned would be held at his office on Sunday to discuss measures to tackle recurrent floods in Jeddah. “The meeting will discuss all aspects of flooding in the Makkah province and how to deal with similar situations in other provinces,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted Prince Naif as saying.

He said the meeting was called on the directive of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who wanted a complete study on Jeddah’s rainwater drainage system.

“We’ll see what we can do immediately to correct the situation,” he said.

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who inspected the flood-hit areas on Thursday, said a lack of rainwater drainage system was the main reason for massive flooding in the city.

“The rainwater drainage system covers only 10 percent of Jeddah,” he said in a statement carried by SPA.

In a statement, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah instructed all government hospitals in Jeddah to provide the best health care to the flood victims. A mobile medical team has been sent to the flood-affected areas.

A few problems were reported at King Abdulaziz International Airport. One Air India flight to Calicut and Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala could not take off Wednesday as the airline’s pilot and crew were unable to reach the airport in time, said Pravin Mistry, manager of Air India for Western Saudi Arabia. He said many passengers of that flight could not reach the airport, either.

“Only 45 passengers reported and we have provided them with hotel accommodation.” The flight was re-scheduled to take off Thursday night.

Studies at Saudi primary schools would be suspended for two weeks because of rains. The schools will reopen Feb. 12, an Education Ministry statement said. However, classes at intermediate and secondary schools would be canceled only for Saturday.

The ministry said examinations scheduled for Jan. 29 would be conducted in the beginning of the second semester, which starts Feb. 12.

The International Indian School in Jeddah announced separately that there would be no classes on Saturday, and the CBSE Plus 2 practical exam has been postponed. “This is due to the damage caused by Wednesday’s downpour to our infrastructure and buses that need additional maintenance,” a school spokesman said.

About 65 Indian students, some below the age of five, were held up Wednesday at Buds & Blossoms International School as the school surroundings were completely inundated. Principal Srikala Venugopal thanked the children and their parents for their understanding and cooperation at times of crisis. “Many families in the neighborhood also came offering help.”

Venugopal Menon, manager of the school, was all praise for the Civil Defense officers for their timely assistance. “Three officers came to the school when they learned from the guard that there are students held up inside because of floods. They helped teachers to shift the children to the third floor of the building. We’ll never forget their help,” Menon told Arab News. He said the school had provided students food and accommodation.

Search and rescue operations continued into Thursday evening.

Civil Defense chief Al-Tuwaijri said 18 government departments have been mobilized to cope with different sections of the city.

“The rescue forces were allocated to each section in order to avoid likely traffic snags blocking the speedy arrival of rescue teams to accident sites,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

He also said that special committees have been formed to work through the logistics of providing housing and other aid to those most affected by the floods.

Police with the help of military have been struggling to connect roads between the south and north, which were virtually cut off. Most exit and entry points of the Palestine Street were submerged. Many people had to divert to Balubaid Street, Al-Arbaeen and Al-Sahafah streets.

The operation room of the Municipal Council was able to help people caught in the floods. Deputy Chairman of the council Hasan Al-Zahrani said the volume of the flood water was beyond the preparations of the council.

The officials of the Charity Warehouse have called on people to volunteer their time or donate food and other items for the displaced. People in flooded districts also need potable water. Relief centers for collecting donated items have been set up in the following locations:

• Behind the Umm Al-Salam branch municipal office south of the Gholail district behind the Al-Khatem square close to Abuzaid restaurant;

• In the Iskan building close to the King Fahd Mosque in Sharafiyah district;

• Near Al-Rida Mosque behind Souq Al-Yamamah in Al-Saheefa disrict; and

• Behind Ansar Hospital in Al-Nuzha district.

Unlike the Nov. 25, 2009 floods, which took place during the Haj season, other parts of the western region were relatively unaffected. Makkah received medium to light rain. The rain was stronger in Mahd, Al-Mowaihiya, Abyar Al-Mashi, Al-Yutma and Al-Hanakiya.

There were rains on Wednesday in other parts of the Kingdom, including in Riyadh, the Eastern Province, Qassim, Hail and Madinah. According to one report, one person died and five others were injured in accidents caused by rain in the Eastern Province. Traffic police said as many as 53 traffic accidents happened in the province as a result of heavy rains. The Civil Defense attended to at least eight cases of electric short circuits.

“The meeting will discuss all aspects of flooding in the Makkah province and how to deal with similar situations in other provinces,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted Prince Naif as saying.

He said the meeting was called on the directive of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah who wanted a complete study on Jeddah’s rainwater drainage system.

“We’ll see what we can do immediately to correct the situation,” he said.

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who inspected the flood-hit areas on Thursday, said a lack of rainwater drainage system was the main reason for massive flooding in the city.

“The rainwater drainage system covers only 10 percent of Jeddah,” he said in a statement carried by SPA.

In a statement, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah instructed all government hospitals in Jeddah to provide the best health care to the flood victims. A mobile medical team has been sent to the flood-affected areas.

A few problems were reported at King Abdulaziz International Airport. One Air India flight to Kozhikode and Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala could not take off Wednesday as the airline’s pilot and crew were unable to reach the airport in time, said Pravin Mistry, manager of Air India for Western Saudi Arabia. He said many passengers of that flight could not reach the airport either.

“Only 45 passengers reported and we have provided them with hotel accommodation.” The flight was rescheduled to take off Thursday night.

Studies at Saudi primary schools would be suspended for two weeks because of rains. The schools will reopen Feb. 12, an Education Ministry statement said. However, classes at intermediate and secondary schools would be canceled only for Saturday.

The ministry said examinations scheduled for Jan. 29 would be conducted in the beginning of the second semester, which starts Feb. 12.

The International Indian School in Jeddah announced separately that there would be no classes on Saturday, and the CBSE Plus 2 practical exam has been postponed. “This is due to the damage caused by Wednesday’s downpour to our infrastructure and buses that need additional maintenance,” a school spokesman said.

About 65 Indian students, some below the age of five, were held up Wednesday at Buds & Blossoms International School as the school surroundings were completely inundated. Principal Srikala Venugopal thanked the children and their parents for their understanding and cooperation at times of crisis. “Many families in the neighborhood also came offering help.”

Venugopal Menon, manager of the school, was all praise for the Civil Defense officers for their timely assistance.

“Three officers came to the school when they learned from the guard that there are students held up inside because of floods. They helped teachers to shift the children to the third floor of the building. We’ll never forget their help,” Menon told Arab News. He said the school had provided students food and accommodation.

Search and rescue operations continued into Thursday evening.

Civil Defense chief Al-Tuwaijri said 18 government departments have been mobilized to cope with different sections of the city.

“The rescue forces were allocated to each section in order to avoid likely traffic snags blocking the speedy arrival of rescue teams to accident sites,” said Al-Tuwaijri.

He also said that special committees have been formed to work through the logistics of providing housing and other aid to those most affected by the floods.

Police with the help of military have been struggling to connect roads between the south and north, which were virtually cut off. Most exit and entry points of the Palestine Street were  submerged. Many people had to divert to Balubaid Street, Arbaeen and Sahafah streets.

The operation room of the Municipal Council was able to help people caught in the floods. Deputy Chairman of the council Hasan Al-Zahrani said the volume of the flood water was beyond the preparations of the council.

The officials of the Charity Warehouse have called on people to volunteer their time or donate food and other items for the displaced. People in flooded districts also need potable water. Relief centers for collecting donated items have been set up in the following locations:

• Behind the Um Al-Salam branch municipal office south of the Gholail district behind the Al-Khatem square close to Abuzaid restaurant;

• In the Iskan building close to the King Fahd Mosque in Sharafiyah district;

• Near Al-Rida Mosque behind Souq Al-Yamamah in Al-Saheefa district;

• Behind Ansar Hospital in Al-Nuzha district.

Unlike the Nov. 25, 2009 floods, which took place during the Haj season, other parts of the western region were relatively unaffected. Makkah received medium to light rain. The rain was stronger in Mahd, Al-Mowaihiya, Abyar Al-Mashi, Al-Yutma and Al-Hanakiya.

There were rains on Wednesday in other parts of the Kingdom, including in Riyadh, the Eastern Province, Qassim, Hail and Madinah. According to one report, one person died and five others were injured in accidents caused by rain in the Eastern Province. Traffic police said as many as 53 traffic accidents happened in the province as a result of heavy rains. The Civil Defense attended to at least eight cases of electric short circuits – arabnews