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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Torrential downpours lead to traffic chaos in Dubai and Sharjah while forcing schools to close

Unsettled weather set to continue through Tuesday as motorists warned to be vigilant

Torrential downpours and flash floods brought four hours of widespread chaos to much of the country on Monday as Dubai police responded to 150 road accidents and more than 2,500 emergency calls.

No serious injuries were reported after thunderstorms and lightning strikes battered much of the UAE overnight on Sunday and early into Monday morning.

Many roads were submerged after some of the worst storms in recent years forced parts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi to a standstill.

Collisions between vehicles during a hectic morning on the roads were largely blamed on standing water, poor visibility and inexperienced motorists driving too fast in treacherous conditions.

Colonel Muhammad Al Muhairi, the acting director of command and control centre at Dubai Police, warned motorists to keep an eye on weather warnings and plan travel times accordingly.

Meteorologists said that while the worst was over, more wet weather could be one the way.

“People need to make an earlier head start to work when there is rain in order to avoid tension for being late,” Col Al Muhairi said.

“Most importantly they should avoid speeding and check their vehicles for any problems.

“Drivers should use their lights, leave enough safety distance between the car in front and stay in lane until it’s safe to change.”

Freakish weather conditions created a cocktail of chaos through the morning rush hour on Monday, with the only surprise being the lack of serious injuries reported.

A crew of seven sailors caught in the eye of the storm on Sunday evening were lucky to escape with their lives when their ship capsized near Palm Deira.

Lieutenant Colonel Ali Al Naqbai, head of maritime rescue at Dubai Police, said the ship was without a GPS system but a rescue team was deployed to the area to launch a recovery operation.

One of the two sailors who fell into the water suffered minor injuries and was swept towards a wave barrier. He was later found and rescued.

Elsewhere in Sharjah, teachers were rescued by lifeboat from their school following a flash flood that cut them off and left them stranded in waist high water.

A video was also posted on social media showing a father and daughter, also in Sharjah, escaping rising waters in a canoe.

Meanwhile, many schools across the UAE took the decision to close early because of the bad weather.

Winchester School in Jebel Ali, Dubai British School, Safa Community School, Emirates International School in the Meadows and Gems Modern Academy all closed at 12pm and parents were reminded to keep a close eye out for emails detailing further potential closures this week.

“Schools in Dubai are empowered to make weather-related closure decisions, keeping in view the interests of child safety,” said Amal Belhasa, head of the education regulator KHDA.

“Any and all decisions about school closures will be informed to parents by the school.”

On Monday, the National Centre for Meteorology issued a rare orange weather warning for much of the country to prepare for hazardous conditions and red warnings advising people to be vigilant along coastal areas between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Those warnings have since been downgraded to a yellow ‘be aware’ alert along coastal areas and at sea for Tuesday.

Standing water posed some of the biggest problems during the Monday morning rush hour, although there was no repeat of the extensive flooding at Dubai’s Green Community during the storms of 2016 that left many temporarily homeless.

As the usual traffic accumulated, tailbacks soon snaked around key routes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Motorists slowed down to a crawl to deal with flooded roads.

Hessa Street in Dubai heading towards Barsha and Umm Suqeim Road were two of the worst hit by flood waters.

Sheikh Zayed Road was reduced down to three lanes close to the new Expo metro intersection near Jebel Ali, due to flooded roads.

Filipino Habibrenz Maglinao, 28, fought through heavy floods on his morning commute, from Abu Dhabi to the factory in Jebel Ali where he works.

“The water was higher than the tyres on my Honda City and it took me ages to be able to get to work,” said the 28-year-old who works in the operations and logistics department for Belgian company Dester that designs and manufactures food packaging for airlines.

“When I finally reached the gates the security guard almost wouldn’t let me in because my number plate at the front of the car had fallen off because of the rains and floods.

“I had to phone the local police station in Jebel Ali and a driver took me over at lunchtime and thankfully someone had handed in my number plate."

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Read more:

UAE weather: Thunderstorms and heavy showers cause chaos

UAE hit by rain, sandstorms and lightning as extreme weather returns

Extreme weather in the UAE: Tales of sun, sand and even snow

Remembering the UAE’s Great Storm one year on

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He was one of many commuters caught up in the chaos.

“I had an important appointment at 9.30am and it just wasn’t happening because of the delays caused by the flooding,” said business consultant Irene Sutton, 48, who was stranded in flooding near Discovery Gardens.

“The boulevard I normally take was completely closed off so I had to take another route.

"All the traffic was closed off to one lane on the back road, they had trucks out trying to pump the water off the road.”

Forecasters are predicting further unsettled weather will continue on Tuesday before calmer weather returns on Wednesday, but warnings for motorists to be vigilant remain in place.

Tuesday will be cloudy across much of the UAE, with the northern emirates and eastern areas most likely to see more rain.

Temperatures could drop as low as 15C in the north with rough seas bringing waves up to six feet crashing onto the coastline.

Strong winds will reach 45km an hour, blowing many showers through quickly but that will also bring more dust and sandstorms, and difficult driving conditions.

Most areas will have mist and fog patches overnight on Wednesday and into Thursday morning, but temperatures are expected to rise into the weekend.