x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Travel warning issued and flights delayed due to rainstorm

The Ministry of Interior urged motorists to drive with caution as heavy rains are reducing visibility and strong winds causing debris to land on and obstruct roads.

A traffic jam on the E11 between Abu Dhabi and Dubai after heavy rain hit the country. Courtesy Johnny Beyrouthy
A traffic jam on the E11 between Abu Dhabi and Dubai after heavy rain hit the country. Courtesy Johnny Beyrouthy

ABU DHABI // The UAE was battered by fierce winds, torrential rain and thunderstorms on Wednesday morning.

The skies darkened as the storm hit Abu Dhabi at about 11.30am, blowing down trees and lampposts and causing severe flooding.

Dramatic videos of the storm and its aftermath quickly spread on social media, showing cars submerged in water, debris flying through the air and damage to buildings.

Winds of up to 126km per hour battered the capital, according to recordings taken by the National Centre of Seismology and Meterorology at Al Bateen Airport.

Over 240 millimetres of rainfall was recorded in an area between Dubai and Al Ain.

Just after midday, Abu Dhabi International Airport tweeted that “due to severe weather conditions, flights at Abu Dhabi International Airport are suspended until further notice”.

A video was also posted online of water pouring through the ceiling in one of the gates.

By 1.30pm the airport said flights had resumed as normal.

Etihad Airways announced on Twitter that 10 flights scheduled to depart Abu Dhabi International Airport had been delayed and 11 incoming flights had to be diverted.

Al Bateen Airport, where the Abu Dhabi Air Expo was taking place, had to be evacuated after reports that tents had been blown down.

Flights were also delayed in Dubai, said Emirates airline. “Emirates passengers in Dubai are requested to check their flight status before heading to the airport,” said a company spokesman.

On the roads, there were numerous reports of lengthy tailbacks caused by flooding.

Emirati Mohammed Al Qemzi, 52, had to postpone his trip from Abu Dhabi to Jebel Ali when he saw the massive traffic jam on the E11 motorway heading to Dubai.

“Traffic was at a standstill from Al Rahba to Ghantoot,” he said. “I was already at Al Rahba at about 11.30am but decided to return to the city, after seeing the chaos on the roads.”

Dubai Police said about 3,200 calls were made to the command and control room on Wednesday.

Lt Col Khazraj Al Khazraji, deputy director of the control room, said there were 253 road accidents but no fatalities.

Col Saif Al Mazrouei, director of Dubai traffic police, urged motorists to take extra caution.

“Road accidents, when there is heavy rain, can lead to serious consequences, especially if a person is driving recklessly,” he said.

Moaza Al Marri, director of corporate communications at the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai, said: “We have mobilised our emergency road agency team and currently have 101 of our team on site. We have called on 21 contractors and partners of our road maintenance team to help with the situation,” she said.

“There are also 15 pumps removing water from where it has collected, and 10 tankers helping to manage the volume of water.”

She said most of the floods were on Sheikh Zayed Road in the direction of Abu Dhabi and at Jebel Ali.

“We are asking people to use alternative routes to avoid any delays on the road,” she said.

Ms Al Marri added that the RTA is asking people to drive safely by slowing down and avoid flooded areas.

Schools across the country were also closed, with the Ministry of Education announcing they would also be shut on Thursday.

For the GEMS American Academy in Khalifa A it proved to be a wise decision as the storm blew off a large part of the building’s facade.

No injuries occurred from the incident, and the school was in the process of assessing the damage and organising repairs, a spokesman said.

Many schools also closed for the day in Dubai. The Dubai English Speaking School posted on Twitter that it and the Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) would be closing early on Wednesday..

“Urgent Notice: The weather is not improving and the roads are getting worse. Safety of students and staff is our prime concern,” said the statement.

“Please collect your children from their classes as soon as possible, rest assured they … safe and will remain supervised until you are here to collect them.”​

The Greens Community in Dubai was severely affected by the flooding.

Resident Emily Portingale was shocked at how fast the water submerged the roads.

“The water was rising really quickly,” she said. “I dropped my son off at nursery at 9am and had a meeting with his teacher. Half an hour later I decided to take him home as I could see everywhere was beginning to flood.

“Luckily it’s not in our building but some of the balconies are flooding.”

The area around Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai was also flooded.

A spokesman for the mall said: “There has been water coming into the mall at the entrances as a result of the torrential rain.

“There has also been considerable surface water on roads in and out of the mall.

He said staff were monitoring the situation and advising visitors to expect delays.

An Abu Dhabi resident reported the roof of the substation on the third floor of International Tower in Abu Dhabi has been pulled off and civil defence are on site dealing with damage.

Wednesday’s trades at the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, the second-biggest in the Gulf Cooperation Council by market value, were canceled and the stock exchanged closed due to the weather.

Fujairah roads flooded as parents went to collect their children from school.

All offices in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) have been told to close and employees evacuated.

In Al Ain residents and workers did their best to deal with water rushing into homes, shops and workplaces.

With visibility on the roads seriously affected, especially on stretches of the Dubai-Al Ain Road, several motorists opted to halt their journeys, pulling off to the side of the road or into the nearest mall car park to wait for a moment of calm.

A resident said the underpass next to the Etisalat building on Khalid Bin Sultan street was flooded for part of the morning.

Kristoffer Lasay, manager of a restaurant in Mazya, said him and staff had to work to bail water out of the premises.

“I’ve been in the UAE for four years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

“I saw the weather forecast, but didn’t expect this. Water came rushing in through our door. Thanks to the rain business has also been very quiet.”

Al Ain resident Beth Coetzee said she had to be careful to avoid water pouring through the roof of another mall in the city.

“People were getting soaked,” she said.

In Sharjah, police urged residents in the eastern region to stay clear of valleys and wadis during heavy rain. Police rescued and evacuated 30 Emirati families in Kalba, Khor Fakkan and Al Madam area after rain water flooded their homes.

All major roads in Sharjah were open on Wednesday, but traffic moved at a slow pace.

newsdesk@thenational.ae