Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Cairo flooding causes school closures and traffic mayhem

Thousands of cars were left stranded in the Egyptian city on Tuesday

Unseasonal rainfall has flooded large areas of Cairo, paralysing the city’s usually heavy traffic, delaying flights and forcing authorities to order schools and universities to close on Wednesday.

Five people, including three children, were electrocuted in rain-related accidents in three provinces in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, according to security officials. Two of the children, aged 9 and 3, were electrocuted when they came into contact with street lamps, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

The chaos caused by the overnight rain in Cairo has highlighted the city’s infrastructure problems and the perceived negligence of its local government. The bustling city of 20 million people receives very little rainfall, but its rickety infrastructure is often exposed as unreliable when it does rain, with most of its streets becoming treacherously muddy or flooded. The overnight rain across the city lasted about an hour.

Lawmakers raised the issue of the rain’s impact on the city in the chamber on Wednesday, accusing the government of failing to have contingency plans in place to deal with emergencies. “The country has drowned in an inch of water,” lamented lawmaker Mohammed Al Massaoud, who has requested answers from the government.

Another legislator, Hassan Bassiouny, said: “When will the government start preparing for weather changes and stop just reacting to them?”

The latest crisis in the city, whose genesis date back to the time of the pharaohs, comes at a time when the construction of a new capital in the desert east of Cairo is proceeding at a rapid pace. Yet to be named, the new capital, a pet project of President Abdel-Fatah El Sisi, will be the seat of the presidency, the Cabinet and parliament. It will also feature a large arts and music complex, an amusement park and large green space. Foreign embassies have also been advised to move there.

The government insists that building the new capital would not derail or reduce efforts to upgrade Cairo’s infrastructure and enhance its position as a major holiday destination, but the latest bout of rain-related mayhem has shown that a great deal of work still needs to be done.

The chaos on Tuesday and Wednesday unleashed a flood of satirical material on social media, mostly criticising the city’s local authorities for their perceived inefficiency. Images posted online purported to show young men playing beach racket in traffic jams or in swimsuits and goggles at a starting position on the edge of a flooded street. But there were also images of young people carrying elderly residents across flood streets.

One video clip making the rounds on social media purports to show a Cairo municipality worker stripped down to his underwear walking military-style toward the bottom of a tunnel filled with rainwater to try and clear blocked drainage pipes.

Other images showed inundated streets, particularly in the city’s eastern suburbs of Heliopolis and Nasr City, and traffic gridlocks stretching for miles. A vehicular tunnel on a key road linking the city centre to the eastern suburbs and the airport was flooded by knee-deep water.

Commuters said their average 60-minute journey home from the city centre took as many as six hours. Some school buses were not able to drop children home until well after nightfall.

One of Cairo airport’s terminals was flooded. Images posted online of the flooded terminal appear to have irked authorities.

The Civil Aviation Ministry said the terminal in question was under renovation and was only being used for one or two flights a day by a private carrier. The State Information Service issued photos of the facility after it was cleaned up. Later, the Civil Aviation Ministry announced the closure of the terminal until renovation work was completed.

EgyptAir, the country’s national carrier, said passengers who could not make it to the airport on time for their flights because of the traffic would not be required to pay a fine when they rebooked.

The government ordered all schools and universities in Cairo, Giza and Qalyubia to close on Tuesday and Wednesday as storms raged overnight.

The government ordered all schools and universities in Cairo, Giza and Qalyubia to close on Tuesday and Wednesday as storms raged overnight.

Updated: October 23, 2019 03:57 PM

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