Middle East

Rare downpours cause flash flooding in Saudi capital

RIYADH: Rare heavy downpours triggered flash floods in the Saudi capital Sunday, forcing schools and universities to close and prompting calls by the authorities for citizens to remain indoors.

At least three people were reported missing, the state news agency SPA said quoting civil defense spokesman Col. Abdullah al-Harithi.

He added that authorities assisted dozens of people trapped by the floods, a rare phenomenon to hit the capital of the desert kingdom.

Heavy rains, accompanied by thunderstorms, have lashed Riyadh since Saturday, triggering flash floods in several districts and cutting off power in the city’s north, according to residents.

Harithi urged Riyadh citizens, estimated at more than 5 million people, to stay away from rivers, valleys and flooded tunnels while the Education Ministry ordered schools and university closed Sunday.

Saudi Arabia, like other desert countries, rarely sees heavy rainfall and religious leaders often organize prayers for rain.

But in May last year around 20 people were killed in flooding that swept parts of Saudi Arabia, which had not experienced such a high volume of rainfall for 25 years.

And in 2011, around 10 people were killed in floods in the western city of Jeddah, where 123 people also perished in floods in 2009.

The inability of Jeddah’s infrastructure to drain off floodwaters and uncontrolled construction in and around the city were blamed at the time for the high number of victims.

The national weather service warned of new storms expected late Sunday in Riyadh and other parts of the kingdom.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 18, 2013, on page 9.

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