People push a car stranded along a flooded street in Dubai on Wednesday.—AFP
People push a car stranded along a flooded street in Dubai on Wednesday.—AFP

• Stories of trapped citizens, damage to property emerge as death toll hits 19
• Dubai airport struggles to cope amid delays, diversions

DUBAI: Two days on, highways in the UAE remained inundated and its major airport in chaos as the Middle East’s financial centre was gridlocked on Wednesday.

Storms hit the Emirates and Bahrain overnight Monday and on Tuesday, after lashing Oman, where 18 people were killed including children.

Police in the UAE said at least one 70-year-old man was killed after he was swept away in his car in Ras Al-Khaimah, one of the oil-rich country’s seven emirates. Power outages were reported in and around Dubai, which was dotted with flooded areas and submerged and abandoned cars.

One road tunnel near the airport was completely flooded to a depth of several metres.

Climatologist Friederike Otto, a specialist in assessing the role of climate change on extreme weather events, stated it was “highly likely” that global warming had worsened the storms.

The UAE also frequently conducts cloud seeding operations to increase rainfall. Bloomberg had said earlier that seven cloud seeding operations had occurred in the days before the storm.

Responding to reports of the UAE carrying out cloud seeding (spraying chemicals to increase rainfall), a senior weather forecaster at the Gulf state’s National Centre of Meteorology issued a clarification saying, “We did not use cloud seeding because (the storm) was already strong.”

The UAE saw record rainfall with 254mm 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 formed in 1971. Long lines of vehicles along the waterlogged, six-lane expressways were witnessed, after the 259.5mm of rain.

Emergency response

As sunny skies returned, stories emerged of residents stuck in cars and offices overnight after torrential downpours and rolling black clouds.

Local media and social media posts showed significant damage across the country, including collapsed roads and flooded homes. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear as emergency workers sought to drain flooded roads across the country hours after the heavy rain subsided.

The UAE lacks much of the needed drainage infrastructure to handle heavy rain. It is not uncommon for roads to become partially submerged by water during extended periods of rainfall. It typically rains only a few times a year.

Iranian authorities said they rescued 21 Sri Lankan crewmen from a Cook Islands-flagged tanker sinking in the Gulf of Oman, the state news agency IRNA reported. The unnamed tanker suffered damage approximately 50km off the coast of Jask in Iran, the report said. Five of the crewmen received medical care from Jask emergency services and were in good physical condition. However, it did not say when the rescue took place.

International travel

 Passengers queue at a flight desk at the Dubai International Airport, on Wednesday.—AFP
Passengers queue at a flight desk at the Dubai International Airport, on Wednesday.—AFP

Dubai International, the hub of Emirates Airline, said it was experiencing significant disruptions with flights delayed or diverted due to heavy rains. The airport had briefly suspended operations on Tuesday as the rains caused flooding across Dubai and elsewhere in the UAE.

Dubai’s flagship Emirates airline cancelled all check-ins as staff and passengers struggled to arrive and leave, with access roads flooded and some metro services suspended. At the airport, long taxi queues formed and passengers milled around, many growing increasingly frustrated as nearly every departure was repeatedly delayed.

“They are completely lost, its complete chaos — no information, nothing,” fumed one passenger, who did not want to be named, after a 12-hour wait.

Meanwhile, a large crowd gathered at a connections desk, clapping and whistling in protest at the lack of information.

Scores of flights were delayed, cancelled and diverted during Tuesday’s torrential rain.

Dubai International Airport said it was working to restore normal operations as quickly as possible, but added that the recovery would take some time.

Flights have been delayed/diverted and impacted by displaced crew, DXB said in a statement. The airport, the world’s busiest in terms of international flights and a major transit hub, advised passengers in Dubai not to come to the airport, in a post on social media.

Emirates Airline said passengers arriving to Dubai and already in transit would continue to be processed.

Separately, Egypt Air issued a statement notifying those concerned about the suspension of their flight operations between Cairo and Dubai. The airline said flights on this route will remain suspended until weather conditions in the UAE improve.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2024

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