x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE battered by storms once more

After Saturday's rains, the Emirates were hit again early yesterday morning with a heavy downpour until noon.

SHARJAH // With the engine of his 2005 Chevrolet still drying from the latest downpour, Ahmed Mohammed, a 25-year-old from Syria, rolled up the trousers of his tan suit, put on a pair of flip-flops and waded to work yesterday. "In Syria when it rains the water goes into a ditch and you don't ever see it again," said the company manager for Al Marwan, a general-contracting company.

"In Sharjah, when it rains, it comes into your house, your business and everything. It's a big problem." Just half of the company's 2,500 employees showed up for work yesterday, one indication of how the emirate was nearly paralysed by heavy rains that battered the country for the second time in four days. After Saturday night's storms caused flooding, the Emirates were hit again early yesterday morning, with heavy rainfall lasting until about noon and snarling up morning commutes.

One person died and 32 more were injured in four morning accidents in Abu Dhabi, one involving two buses and a lorry, according to the Ministry of the Interior. The heaviest rainfall was measured in Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah, where 61.02 millimetres fell on Masafi, which stretches across both emirates, from midnight Monday until 12.30pm yesterday. In Abu Dhabi, 43.4mm of rain fell, with 22mm recorded in Dubai and 20mm in Sharjah.

Sharjah seemed to suffer the most, as was the case three days before. Roads turned to rivers and car parks to lakes. At the National Paints roundabout in Sharjah, water levels rose above the wheels of cars in some spots before the road was partially closed, increasing pressure on the two remaining Dubai-Sharjah routes. Traffic was diverted to Kalba Road, which a witness described as "completely submerged". Lorries created waves that washed over cars parked or abandoned at the side of the road.

Francis MM, 52, from India, held his dress shoes as he waded home from his job in a car parts shop. "I've lived in Sharjah for two months and the water here is everywhere," he said. "Before this I lived in Dubai and you never saw it flood like it floods here." The Roads and Transport Authority deployed more than 100 men and 22 water pumps to tackle flooded roads and divert traffic in Dubai and parts of Sharjah.

Hussain al Banna, an assistant in the RTA's Emergency and Crises Team, said large tankers sent to help in Sharjah made 300 trips out, hauling a total of three million gallons of water. In Dubai, the team removed another 15 million gallons from the city's roads. Col Mohammed al Madhloom, the head of the Sharjah Police's operations room, said that the sewage system had failed to absorb large amounts of water.

Sharjah Police, Sharjah Municipality and the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority were holding meetings into the afternoon yesterday to find a solution to the flooding problem. At Sharjah International Airport, flooding caused congestion at the departure and arrival gates. "If this can be the state at the airport, now just imagine what it is like in other parts of the emirate," said Mohammed Ali, 35, from Egypt, there to pick up a friend.

Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, the director of the Sharjah Department of Civil Aviation, said problems were confined and no flights had been cancelled. "There is still some little flooding at the entrance of the airport," he said. Dubai Municipality's Waste Management Department drew up a contingency plan on Sunday to help clear up the first floods, cleaning drainage holes where most of the rain had gathered.

Meanwhile, the commute on roads off Sheikh Zayed Road slowed to a crawl. "I've never seen traffic so slow," said Ian Carr, 34 an architect from the UK. "I didn't see any accidents on the way to work, but visibility was so bad, I could have passed some and wouldn't have noticed." Schools remained open, with staff and pupils in Abu Dhabi coping with late buses, indoor recess and other "minor issues".

"There were a few leaks here and there," said Wayne MacInnis, the principal of Raha International School. Despite the flooding and wind damage, the recent rains were part of a "cycle" that repeats itself every few years, according to a representative at the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology. "There is nothing out of the ordinary this year," said one of the centre's representatives. The rains could give way to a shamal today. According to the duty forecaster at the Dubai Meteorological Office, hot, dry winds due in from the north-west could reach speeds up to 25 knots. The northern emirates, however, could still be susceptible to showers, said the forecaster.

* With additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen, Hugh Naylor and Kathryn Lewis