Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat-(Agencies)- Torrential rains submerged streets and cut off electricity in parts of Jeddah yesterday, prompting Saudi emergency services to mount a major rescue operation as water levels rose rapidly.
King Abdullah ordered the mobilisation of all relevant services “because of the havoc caused by rains and floods in Jeddah and its environs,” the official SPA news agency said.
“We must send reinforcements immediately to limit the damage as rains are expected to continue in the coming days,” the king was quoted as saying.
He added: “The minister of finance has been instructed to allocate the funds necessary to put all emergency resources and reinforcements” at the disposal of rescue and response teams.
On Wednesday, cars floated in streets turned again into rivers, while putrid odours filled the air as sewage from underground tanks overflowed and mixed with flood water in the Red Sea port of four million.
“We are flooded. It’s bad. The whole first floor of my house is filled with water and one of my couches is floating in the living room,” a woman told the Reuters news agency in Jeddah.
“Why weren’t we warned about this? There are helicopters rescuing people and cars floating in the streets,” she said.
Authorities urged residents to stay indoors but gave no immediate assessment of damages or any casualties. A spokesman for the civil defence did not return repeated calls for comment.
Until recently, Jeddah’s waste water was dumped in an area in the middle of the desert which later developed into a large lake dubbed “Musk Lake” by locals for its odour.
Only when the lake, which was equivalent in size to 340 soccer fields, rose 12 metres (39 ft) high, King Abdullah ordered authorities to get rid of it. He also said after the last floods that officials would be held responsible.
Now municipality officials say the lake is empty and water waste is purified and used to water plants in the city but there is still no functioning sewage system in Jeddah, a major port.
“I really don’t mind having my house flushed with water. I love rain,” said another Jeddah resident. “But I hate sewage and this is what we are dealing with. I can’t stay in my flooded house. This is all diseased water.”
After the November 2009 floods in Jeddah, the king sought legal action against officials and contractors for alleged corruption, mismanagement of real estate and land planning that exacerbated the effects of floods.
The inability of Jeddah’s infrastructure to drain the waters and uncontrolled construction in and around the city led to a high number of flood victims.
Thousands of families lost their homes as 10,785 buildings were destroyed, a survey found.