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UAE: at least one dead and big clean up underway after torrential storm

April 17, 2024 at 3:19 pm

A view of submerged cars at a street after heavy rainfall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on April 17, 2024 [Stringer – Anadolu Agency]

Local authorities and communities across the United Arab Emirates were clearing up on Wednesday after at least one person died and homes and businesses were damaged in a rare torrential storm, Reuters has reported. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear as emergency workers sought to drain flooded roads across the country hours after heavy rain subsided late on Tuesday.

The UAE saw record rainfall with 254 mm (10 inches) falling in less than 24 hours in Al Ain, a city on the UAE-Oman border, according to the national meteorology centre. That was the most since records began in 1949, before the UAE was created in 1971.

The country lacks much of the drainage infrastructure needed to handle heavy rain. It is not uncommon for roads to become partially submerged underwater during extended periods of rainfall. Typically, it only rains a few times a year.

The UAE also conducts frequent cloud seeding operations to increase rainfall. A forecaster from the national meteorology centre denied that such operations had taken place recently. Bloomberg earlier quoted the centre as saying that seven cloud seeding operations had been carried out in the days before the storm.

Climate scientists say that rising global temperatures, driven by man-made climate change, are leading to more extreme weather events, including intense rainfall like the UAE storm, the impact of which continued to be felt on Wednesday, with roads blocked and flights severely disrupted.

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Emirates, one of the world’s biggest international airlines, stopped checking-in passengers departing from Dubai until midnight. Flydubai, which partially resumed flights in the morning, said operations would not return to normal until after midnight. Meanwhile, budget carrier Air Arabia suspended check-in to flights to and from Sharjah until 2am on Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday).

Kanish Kumar Deb Barman, 39, said he had been stuck at Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, with his wife since around 4am, when his flight landed late from Paris, meaning that he missed his connecting flight to India.

“People are just lying around in the airport. There are not enough seats and chairs to let them sit. They are sitting on the floor,” he told Reuters on Wednesday afternoon, waiting to board the next available flight.

The Dubai airport authorities said after the storm had subsided that the heavy rain had caused significant disruptions, with flights delayed and diverted. It advised passengers in Dubai against travelling to the airport. “We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.

The government of Dubai ordered schools to continue teaching classes online on Thursday, as emergency workers cleared debris, including trees and balcony furniture, from the streets.

Local media and social media posts showed significant damage across the country, including collapsed roads and flooded homes. However, the official media offices for the federal government and Dubai and Abu Dhabi did not immediately respond to an emailed Reuters enquiry about the scale or cost of the storm damage.

It was reported that an elderly Emirati man in his 70s died on Tuesday morning when his vehicle was caught in flash floods in the Ras Al-Khaimah emirate.

In neighbouring Oman, 19 people died, including schoolchildren, after three consecutive days of heavy rain, according to Omani media, which published images of flooded communities.

The Times of Oman reported that more rain was expected on Wednesday. In Dubai, the skies were clear and in some areas the roads were quiet after the government ordered its employees and all schools to work remotely for a second consecutive day.

Social media posts on Tuesday showed flooded roads and car parks with some vehicles completely submerged. Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck in a kilometres-long traffic jam for hours.

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