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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Dozens dead or missing in Jordan school trip tragedy

Toll rises to 20 after rescuers find body of boy, 12, while more than 20 still missing after flash floods near the Dead Sea

Flash floods in Jordan killed at least 20 people, injured 22 and left more than 20 missing near the Dead Sea on Thursday, including schoolgirls and their teachers who were on a field trip to the area.

Rescuers from the Jordanian civil defence and the army were working late into the night to locate survivors in Zarqa Maeen, an area known for its water springs and gorges opening on to the Dead Sea.

The body of a 12-year-old boy was found on Friday morning. The head of Jordan's civil defence, Mustafa Al Basaiah, said 13 of the dead so far were children.

As of Thursday evening, civil defence officials said they had rescued 34 citizens including children who were sent to hospitals in Amman, Salt and Shouneh in the Jordan Valley.

With some of those rescued in critical condition and more people still missing, the death toll was expected to rise.

The Jordanian government said the group of 37 seventh- and eighth-grade students from the girls school, along with seven chaperones including teachers and parents, visited the Zarqa Maeen area for a field trip despite repeated official warnings about a heavy storm forecast to hit the kingdom on Thursday.

Witnesses told local media that the group was having lunch in the valley near the water’s edge when heavy rains at around 1pm triggered a flash flood of mud, rock and debris in the area. Footage filmed on mobile phones shows a torrent of mud and debris flowing down the valley where the students were picnicking.

Jordananian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz arrived at site, about 70 kilometres from Amman, early on Thursday evening to direct the recovery efforts which included helicopters and marines. He later posted on Twitter to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and wish those injured a speedy recovery.

The Prime Minister also said the school and Ministry of Education had agreed conditions about the trip which were not adhered to, publishing a photo of a document purporting to show such correspondence. He said an investigation into what happened would take place and those found at fault would be held accountable.

According to civil defence officials, rescuers were dealing with a larger than expected number of victims, which they attributed to people other than the school group being present at the Dead Sea shore when the floods struck. Additional ambulances and stretchers were needed, they told local news stations.

As the death toll continued to rise Thursday evening, Jordan's King Abdullah II announced that he had cancelled a visit to Bahrain, which had been scheduled for Friday.

Education Minister Azmi Mahafzah told state-run Jordan TV that the school had organised a field trip to the Dead Sea before the rainstorm was predicted. Not only did the school proceed with the trip against government warnings, but the students and teachers had gone down the wadi and near the water which was “not allowed”, the minister said.

According to local news websites, families of the students started gathering at the school in Amman under increased police presence on Thursday evening to learn of their children's fate.

The UAE leadership mourned the tragic events in Jordan.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, expressed the UAE's solidarity, sending condolences to King Abdullah II and the people of Jordan on Thursday evening.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed tweeted: "We share with our brethren in Jordan their painful affliction in the flood victims that has spanned wide areas. We ask Allah to engulf them in his vast mercy and to heal the wounded and to protect Jordan and its people from all harm. Deepest condolences and sympathies to his highness King Abdullah II and the Jordanian people."

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid tweeted: "Our hearts go out to our brethren in Jordan… their plight is our plight in the incident of the bus with children during the floods. Their children are our children. Mercy to them. From the bus to the doors of heaven in the mercy of god. May Allah bless them and my deepest sympathies to the Jordanian people during their affliction."

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