x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Sun shines on post-rain cleanup

After downpours that flooded streets and buildings, workers and residents began clearing away the water and muck left behind.

Three days of thunderstorms and torrential rain flooded homes, paralysed roads and raised concerns about drainage systems. Ten people were killed in traffic accidents attributed to the storms. Across the country, municipality crews worked around the clock to pump water from roads, and building owners and residents dealt with flooded basements, soggy floors and power outages. The three-day deluge was intense, but did not set records, meteorologists said.

Over three days, 107mm of rain was recorded in Abu Dhabi, 35mm in Dubai and 74mm in Al Ain. The hardest hit area was Al Foah, near Al Ain, which recorded almost 150mm of rain in three days. "It really was substantially falling in places," a spokesman for the Dubai Meteorological Centre said. Forecasters said the worst of the rain is over, though there may be light showers on Saturday. The death toll from the storms grew to 10 with the announcement yesterday of one fatality in Al Ain. Three people died in Abu Dhabi, and two each in Dubai, Sharjah and Fujairah.

Dubai Police received almost 10,000 emergency calls during the three-day period, including 41 for major accidents. The worst involved a 60-seat bus that crashed into a stationary lorry on Emirates Road in Duabi, killing two people. Between 30 and 35 people received minor injuries and three were in critical condition. The driver of the bus was not injured and is in custody pending an investigation, police said.

The majority of accidents were caused by speeding, poor visibility and failing to leave enough space between vehicles, police said. Municipal officials in Dubai estimated that workers cleared 600,000 cubic meters of water from flooded roads, using 70 pumps and 40 tankers. Officials said the standing water was not caused by a failure in the draining system, but that the drains were simply overwhelmed by the amount of water.

"There were no faults or failures in the system," said Abdul Saifai, the head of the municipality's rainwater committee. "Clearance took longer than anticipated because the pumps are not designed to cope with that level of rainfall. They only have the capacity to pump a certain volume of water a day." In Abu Dhabi, 80 fixed pumps and numerous portable ones were in use across the emirate's 500km road network. Emergency teams used 140 tankers to clean the flooded streets, officials said.

For some residents, however, the reliance on pumps instead of a better drainage system proved disastrous. Mohammed Alamini, the manager of a building near Muroor Road and 19th Street in the capital, was busy yesterday morning overseeing the removal of 30,000 gallons of water from the basement of his three-storey apartment block. "The drainage system outside was broken, which must be done by the municipality," he said. "They had not maintained the drainage system so water was coming from the outside to the inside."

Mr Alamini's father went to the municipality yesterday to ask them to clean the drains in the future. He said he is confident the flooding would not happen again. The family was still trying to assess the damage to the building. The basement was home to three of the building's staff members and five boarders, who were all moved to an empty apartment on the roof along with their waterlogged luggage and furniture.

"We have moved all of them upstairs for a week so we can clean the damage," Mr Alamini said. "It's nature, so you cannot be angry. But I'm sad for the people who live in the basement." He said he did not yet know how much it would cost to remove the water and replace the damaged furniture. Michael Muir, a 54-year-old from Britain who has been in the UAE for three years, said his apartment was damaged by the rising water.

"Water seeped in and my living room was an indoor swimming pool," he said. "I have the situation under control now but what about my rugs? They are like sponges even now, and are ruined." In the hours after the rain started, insurance companies began to log calls from victims of flood-related property damage and traffic accidents. Most companies said it was too soon to assess the extent and cost of the damage.

"We've had 45 claims so far," said a representative from RSA Insurance in Abu Dhabi. "Mostly they said water got to the level of the tyres and that most of the car was under the water. We have been getting calls about tyre damages, damages to the doors of the cars, batteries and the engine." Another insurance company, AZA Gulf, said it received around 10 calls about flooded cars. "Since most of it happened yesterday we haven't been able to investigate yet," a representative said.

In The Green Community of Dubai, Marco Scalet, a 33-year-old Italian who works at a consulting firm, said poor drainage led to flooding. "I've got a lake of water on my terrace, and the water level rose 60 centimetres and invaded our house," he said. "It wasn't a crescendo. It built up over the course of two days. "It's a well known drainage problem that's common here, and every time the water level comes up it creates problems."

Because of previous drainage issues, the tenants had to time to plan for floods, he said "[But] it's not a long term way to tackle it. It's cheaper to clean up the mess rather than address the fundamental problem." When rains hit two years ago, Mr Scalet said, homes on the ground floor were sitting in half a metre of water and many homeowners had to throw away their furniture. To prevent another flood this year, some residents put sandbags in front of their homes.

"[The property developer] has pumps on standby and they're good at addressing the problems," he said. Numerous businesses and villas reported flooding and power cuts, some of which were being repaired only yesterday. Industrial areas such as Musaffah and Al Quoz were particularly badly hit because of poor or non-existent drainage. Yesterday roads were covered with drying mud and companies had taken to pumping water from inside warehouses into the street.

Dubai's rainwater committee was focused on Al Quoz, Al Qusais and Sonapur districts, an official said. Rose Natividad, who works at Mushrif National Construction in Musaffah, said the power had been out for more than 24 hours after water shorted out an electric circuit. "Half the building had power and half didn't. Some of us went home and some of us stayed," she said. "It did hurt. There was no fax, no e-mail no computers." By midmorning, business had returned to normal.