x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Khalifa orders dam built in flooded area

Residents of 11 damaged homes try to salvage what possessions they can as Red Crescent Authority distributes aid to stricken families.

Government cleaners remove sludge from the homes in Sharam village in Fujairah after it was hit by flash floods on Monday.
Government cleaners remove sludge from the homes in Sharam village in Fujairah after it was hit by flash floods on Monday.

SHARAM VILLAGE, FUJAIRAH // Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, has ordered that a dam be built in Fujairah's Sharam valley after 11 homes there were severely damaged by flooding. The Minister of Public Works, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak, directed his planners to "speed up the design" of the dam, according to the state news agency, WAM.

Monday's flash floods, which followed heavy rain, destroyed sand barriers that had protected houses at the mouth of the mountainous area, and a half-metre of water flowed into villagers' homes. Hundreds of government-employed cleaners shovelled mud out of homes in Sharam village yesterday, while owners tried to salvage their possessions. "How am I ever going to replace my family albums that were ruined because of the flood?" asked one resident, Um Humaid Khalfan. "Our beautiful homes smell like sewers. There should be a real cement dam protecting us from such floods."

Mrs Khalfan's five children were taken to a relative's house in Dibba on Monday. One of her sons swallowed dirty water and was taken to a clinic as a precaution. Having discarded electronic items such as televisions and refrigerators, Mrs Khalfan was hoping that some of her possessions could be salvaged. Piles of wet and muddy furniture, clothes, and books were lined up to dry along the road outside homes as municipal cleaners mopped floors and carried out blocks of mud in trolleys and plastic bags.

Emergency relief teams established a base near the site of the flood and distributed Dh10,000 (US$2,700) to heads of families under orders issued by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA). Suhail al Qadi, director of the RCA's branch in Fujairah, said: "We have assessed the damage and set up a list of which homes deserve immediate assistance until more detailed compensation packages can be arranged for the victims of the flood."

In a village of 30 homes, around 15 families received immediate compensation. The RCA also distributed food and supplies to the families as they waited for their homes to be cleaned. Standing in line for immediate compensation, Abduallah Saeed al Hayiri tried to make the best of the situation and joked that at least the flood gave his children something to do. "My children played in the water as we tried to make sure nothing too important floats away," he said. "A dam has been broken, but it is a sand dam and so not a real dam. The running water pushed open our doors with great force and before we knew what was happening, there was water everywhere."

With more rain expected, Mr al Hayiri is bracing for more problems. "Sharam village will remain vulnerable to floods as long as there is no real dam to protect it," he said. Residents of the village, which was established generations ago, said the floods only started in the past decade. A rumour had initially circulated that a cracked dam caused the latest flooding, but the authorities struck it down.

"The village was flooded when a sand embankment built to protect the village from water flowing from nearby mountains collapsed under the weight of the rainwater," said Mohammed al Afkham, the head of Fujairah Municipality. "The extent of the damage was greatly exaggerated, as people are not living in tents, and nobody has become a refugee." Mr al Afkham confirmed that 11 houses had been "seriously damaged" and that their residents were living with relatives or in government housing in Dibba. He said plans to build a more robust concrete dam in Sharam had been delayed several times.

"Perhaps the project will now be fast-tracked because of what happened." The site of the flood was busy yesterday with representatives from both the Public Works Ministry and the Environment Ministry, with a special visit by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, the Crown Prince of Fujairah, who assured the residents that everything possible would be done to help them. "Thankfully, nothing went seriously wrong," he said as villagers approached him with updates on what was happening. "We will do everything we can to help, and there is no need to worry. Everything will be fine. We will solve this."

rghazal@thenational.ae