Dr Luigi Barcella rapidly realised he was not going anywhere. The 41-year-old business development manager from Italy returned to his car, which he had parked near Delma Street in the capital, to find it swamped.
"I have been stuck here for two hours now," he said. "My car stopped because of all the water here; I think the water entered the engine and stalled it. "I called for a tow lorry, but because the technician from the BMW recovery services was not here yet, the tow lorry left. I will have to be patient and see what to do. But I must say, I have never seen rain like this in the 12 years that I have been here."
Water levels did not recede substantially even when the rains subsided for a few hours in the afternoon; sections of Airport Road, Muroor Road and the Tourist Club Area were submerged. Those drivers who did make it on to the roads faced a situation that was little better. Asaad Ouda, 29, a Palestinian resident of Dubai, said the roads there were even more hazardous because local drivers were not used to the conditions.
"Some cars were travelling far too fast, as if they were driving in the rain for the fun of it. They don't understand the dangers and the difficulty in stopping. Other drivers take the opposite extreme and drive very slowly with their hazard lights on, stopping traffic from flowing. "Drainage is a really big problem as the water just collects on the roads," Mr Ouda added. "It was particularly bad under bridges as there was no warning and the visibility is low."
Akhtar Mumin, 35, from Britain, who works in Media City, said most small roads in the area were flooded and that there should be more warnings for motorists. "Sheikh Zayed Road is very dangerous in wet conditions. Sometimes they reduce the speed limits but they should use the signs to warn drivers of stopping distances and areas of standing water. "Drivers are inexperienced in these conditions and drive too closely to the vehicle in front causing many accidents."
And despite the best efforts of authorities, drainage systems were overwhelmed by the volume of water, leaving residential neighbourhoods, roundabouts and junctions, in particular, underwater. In Abu Dhabi, a round-the-clock operations room was set up and 75 tanker vehicles fitted with pumps were dispatched to remove standing water, according to the municipality. Twenty pumps were set up at storm drainage points in the Khalidiya area to suck up water and transfer it to the drainage network that runs to the Corniche.
The municipality said it had been implementing its contingency plan since Saturday morning, when the first heavy rain fell, and more pumps were being added as needed. In Dubai, responsibility for drainage and the clearing of storm water is divided between the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Dubai Municipality, with the strategic networked maintained by the RTA and local roads by the municipality.
Abdul Saifai, head of the rainwater committee for the municipality, said it had received 28 complaints from the public of roads being blocked by rainwater as of yesterday afternoon. A stormwater clearing team has access to more than 100 pumps that he said could clear a small road within 10 minutes. "Depending on the location and scale of the problem a team is dispatched and all hot-spots cleared in a maximum of two hours," Mr Saifai said. "We have held several meetings recently with the RTA to discuss how to manage stormwater problems. The objective is to maintain the road network at 100 per cent at all times."
He said the amount of construction work in the city was a factor in water accumulating, as some of the largest build-ups of water were at the base of flyovers or major roads under construction. The municipality had begun preparing for the bad weather more than a month ago, when it set out a plan for distributing pumps across the city, brought in extra pumps and checked its existing ones. However, some residents outside construction areas emerged from their homes yesterday morning to find their cars in deep puddles.
"The pool is at least 40cm deep and I cannot go in," said Dr Omar Alfarouk, an American paediatrician who has worked in Abu Dhabi for 25 years. He found his silver Toyota Corolla surrounded by water. "I asked a lot of people to help but nobody will help." The problem of drains unable to cope with unusual amounts of rainfall is not a new one. Last year, John Yeaman, a former Abu Dhabi Municipality employee who was hired to create a road maintenance system, told The National that such flooding was the result of a failure to maintain roads.
"Whole roads were flooded because no one cleans the drains," he said then. "That's basic maintenance." The flooding left police across the country to issue appeals for motorists to drive more carefully. Brig Mohammad Saif al Zafien, the director of the general traffic department of Dubai Police, said: "All drivers should drive at low speeds and be more cautious on the streets. Speed limits allow up to 120 kph but under such conditions drivers should reduce their speeds significantly and exercise caution on the roads.
"Drivers have to watch out for road pools on flat roads and uneven roads. When there is less tyre traction a person may lose control of his vehicle." Peyman Younes Parham, director of marketing and corporate communication at Dubai RTA, warned: "The public has to change its attitude to driving and we are asking them to drive carefully. Driving in these conditions is very different than dry and we're asking the public not to make the journey unless it is necessary. If drivers have to brake, they should pump them instead of jamming them which would cause them to skid and lose control."
Col Hamad al Shamsi, the director of Abu Dhabi traffic police, advised motorists to pull over to petrol stations in the heaviest rain and avoid using their hazard lights. "Parents should also make sure that their personal drivers who are dropping their children to school are aware of road safety instructions during rain." In Sharjah, Lt Col Ahmad Abdullah bin Darwish, the head of the Anjad patrol division, said extra patrols had been deployed around schools and residential areas to oversee the safe passage of schoolchildren.
He added that motorcyclists and cyclists were particularly vulnerable to diminished traction. Brig Gen Mohammed Bedah, the acting head of media and public relations at the Ministry of Interior, offered several safety tips, warning people to remove all exposed electrical wires and to cover water pumps inside and outside the house. Lights should be turned off during the rain, he said, and the electricity should be turned off in the house while residents are asleep.
The Meteorological Department at the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS) reported that rainfall totals rivalled records. The most rain falling in one 24-hour period was on December 11, 1995, when Fujairah International Airport recorded 163.1mm. The eastern emirate also saw 131.8mm on December 2, 2006. As of yesterday, Al Foah, near Al Ain, received the brunt of the storm's deluge and recorded 134mm over the past three days.
Mohammed al Abry, the director of the NCMS Meteorological Department, said that there were chances of continuous rain over the following days, and that these chances were heightened at night. "From today onwards, we are expecting rain throughout the days, and there will be fresh to strong winds as well. It should be colder over the next few days, and seas are expected to be rough so it is not a good time for sailing. Motorists should also take precautions while driving as roads will be slippery."
firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Suryatapa Bhattacharya, Matt Kwong, Haneen Dajani, Jen Gerson, Awad Mustafa and Anna Zacharias