x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

After the deluge, time to clear up

Emergency crews busy as UAE repairs the damage from days of violent storms that blocked roads and closed schools.

Hamed al Jesmy, 23, an Abu Dhabi police officer, gazes at the unfamiliar sight of water filling the Wadi Bih dam near Ras al Khaimah yesterday.
Hamed al Jesmy, 23, an Abu Dhabi police officer, gazes at the unfamiliar sight of water filling the Wadi Bih dam near Ras al Khaimah yesterday.

Schools along the mountainous stretches of the Sharjah-to-Kalba motorway were closed yesterday after rock slides and rivers of mud had blocked roads, while rescue workers fanned out across the country to clear debris and assist the victims of several days of unusually intense rainfall.

In Fujairah city, residents awoke yesterday to find pools of rainwater in their driveways, and in some cases had to be evacuated because of the risk of flooding. There were no reports of injuries, however. In Al Baih valley in Ras al Khaimah on Monday, a police helicopter rescued a family of four who had been left stranded after their vehicle was caught by a flash flood. Saeed Rashid al Yamahy, the head of aviation for RAK police, said his unit had carried out nine weather-related rescue missions. He called on residents to heed official weather warnings.

"The section has issued several warnings, yet we still witness how a majority of people still go to flooded areas, in severe weather conditions and do not follow the simplest instructions of safety," he said. Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of RAK, yesterday ordered the creation of a committee to assess the damage caused by floods in the emirate, the state news agency WAM reported.

Sharjah Municipality has formed a crisis-management committee to tackle problems resulting from the torrential downpours, said a municipal official. Sharjah authorities were concentrating on responding to calls on the Dhaid and Kalba roads as well as the Makhnour area, all of which had suffered particularly severely. According to statistics from Dubai International Airport, a total of 39.4mm of rain fell on the emirate over the past five days, an average of 7.8mm a day but most of it falling on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Car parks in the Dubai Marina area, some of which lack drainage systems, have been under several millimetres of water for three days. The Dubai Schools Agency yesterday gave principals permission to close their schools if they felt the bad weather "posed a safety risk". People across the country said yesterday they had not seen such powerful downpours in decades, though many were pleased to see plants benefiting.

"It's a blessing from God," said Mohammed al Kindi, 60, a judge in Fujairah, as he tiptoed between muddy puddles during afternoon prayers at a small mosque by Fujairah city's Corniche. "It's green in Masafi, in al Aqah, in Sharam. It's a gift from God, and it looks like it will rain even more." Abdullah Ahmad spent yesterday morning admiring the mountain dam near Munei, a small village in RAK along the Sharjah-to-Kalba road, which had turned from a barren basin into a lake buzzing with the sound of crickets and other wildlife.

"I've never seen anything like this before in my life," said Mr Ahmad, 23, a policeman who works in Dubai. "We've seen water in the dams before, but nothing like this. The land is much greener than before - much, much greener." But below the dam, motorists were struggling though metre-deep water and dodging boulders that had fallen on to the road from the adjacent slopes. Jumaa al Dahmani, an employee at the RAK Municipality satellite office in Munei, said police had pulled out four vehicles stranded on flooded sections of the road.

"There was so much rain from about 4pm yesterday until this morning; it was so powerful," said Mr al Dahmani. "There haven't been many problems with people's houses, but the roads are badly damaged." Al Asma bint Al Haraf secondary school for girls, also in Munei, was closed after nearly a metre of muddy water filled its courtyard and blocked entrances. Sheikha Salama, an English teacher, said the staff were afraid that boulders, loosened by the rain, could hit the school, or that mountain dams might collapse.

"It's very dangerous here, we're all a bit concerned," she said. Her colleague Wazira Johar, an administrator, said: "The dams in the mountains aren't enough. Water is breaking through them and flooding the streets and our school." She said the neighbouring boys' primary, the Salim Suheil Boys' School for Basic Education, had cancelled classes because the roof had caved in. But hundreds flocked to the wadis near RAK city, picnicking near rivers that are usually dry gullies, and ploughing through them in powerful 4x4s.

"We are just enjoying the rain and the nice weather," said Ahmed al Balooshi, who had come with his wife, sisters and children to see the new aquatic sights. "It rarely rains here so when it does, everyone gets happy. The dam hasn't been full for a long time, maybe 10 years, but now it is. RAK will be Atlantis until Friday." In Abu Dhabi four people died and 42 were injured in weather-related traffic accidents in the past three days, according to figures released yesterday.

During the peak of the stormy weather late on Monday night, half a dozen of Etihad's narrow-bodied airliners were grounded at Abu Dhabi International Airport and elsewhere in the region, including Muscat and Bahrain. Some passengers had been delayed for up to an hour, said Tom Clarke, a spokesman for the airline, but there had been no cancellations or diversions. "It was just a case of watching and waiting for the windy weather window to pass."

WAM reported that the Red Crescent Authority had stepped up its efforts to help families in Al Ain and the Eastern Region affected by the storms. * Reporting by Hugh Naylor, Yasin Kakande, Anna Zacharias and Gregor McClenaghan. Additional material from WAM