ABU DHABI // As thousands of motorists sat in paralysing gridlock on Tuesday evening, one person was more impatient than anyone. Zainab al Sinani's unborn baby just could not wait to see the world. Already in the early stages of labour, Mrs al Sinani, 29, had left her home near Baniyas about 5pm. But when she neared Abu Dhabi city centre, traffic slowed, then stopped. The car, driven by her husband, did not move for 30 minutes once it hit the Tourist Club area.
The Omani couple couldn't see it, but near the intersection of Al Najda and Electra Streets, across from Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, a crane had malfunctioned. According to the municipality and police, the equipment blocked the street and the surrounding area was cordoned off. The gridlock infected the entire city from about 4 to 10pm. But Mrs al Sinani - and her unborn child - didn't have that much time. "When I saw the traffic, the pain started to increase," she said yesterday.
"I was afraid I was going to have the baby in the car. I was holding on to the handle in the car, whatever I could grab. I was taking deep breaths. I was praying." Desperate, she called police, and an ambulance arrived half an hour later. But because the cars were so close together, it was unable to reach her. Her solution: "The ambulance parked far away and I leaned on my husband and walked to it," she said.
Fifteen minutes later, the couple arrived at Corniche Hospital. She delivered her baby, a boy, an hour and a half later, and is convinced that without the help of the ambulance drivers she would not have made it in time. "I was very afraid that I would have the baby in the car, and then I was very afraid that I would have the baby in the ambulance, so when I saw the hospital I felt very comforted," she said. "I felt like I was safe."
Both mother and baby are recovering at the hospital and were in good health yesterday. Complaints of gridlock on Tuesday stretched across the city, from Marina Mall to the Tourist Club Area to Mussafah Bridge. Most major streets and intersections were blocked until late at night. It took Zayed al Breiki four hours to get from Airport Road to the Hamdan Center, he said. "Yesterday was a very hard day," the 21-year-old student said. "After one hour, I saw that the traffic was a problem. I kept going. I was telling myself that there would be a solution, that the traffic was about to end, but nothing happened."
There was no place to park his car, so he had no choice but to continue driving. Like many others on the road, he listened to music and called his friends during the long wait. And although city officials laid the blame at the feet of the crane failure, Mr al Breiki said traffic lights were a major issue. "The problem was the signals," he said. "They weren't working." The municipality said signals were modified to ease the flow of cars and trucks. Police officers also directed traffic at some intersections to help reduce the congestion.
"The traffic lights did not make the problem, it was that the drivers did not pay attention to the yellow area," a representative from the municipality said. "When you see that the road is blocked you are not supposed to go into the yellow box. Even though there was traffic, people went into the yellow box, which caused even more traffic." Col Hussein al Harthi, director of Traffic and Patrol Administration in Abu Dhabi, confirmed that 35 vehicles were impounded after being spotted stopped in intersections.
He said the traffic-control system identified the vehicles, and their drivers were ticketed. He blamed irresponsible drivers for worsening the congestion on the city's streets on Tuesday. For Bassem Breish, a half-hour commute from his job as a fleet manager in Mussafa to his home became something much more arduous. He left at 5.30, but would not make it home in time for a 6pm dinner. "Once I stopped at the first intersection before the first bus station, I could see that there was a big problem, but I wasn't sure what it was about," said Mr Breish, 36, who is from Lebanon. "When I reached the intersection the cars weren't moving according to the light. There was a policeman giving orders for the cars to move."
It look him hours to get from the bus station to Lifeline Hospital on Muroor Street.
A police spokesman said there were no major accidents and no deaths in yesterday's havoc, although many people reported seeing flashing lights from police cars and ambulances.