Airport Shut Down, Vehicles Abandoned as Dubai Battles Massive Floods

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was hit by exceptionally heavy rainfall this week, bringing flash floods that caused at least four fatalities and virtually shut down the city of Dubai.

Parts of the UAE reported more than ten inches of rainfall in less than 24 hours, the heaviest precipitation since the Emirates began keeping records 75 years ago. Dubai International Airport posted four inches of rain in 12 hours on Tuesday, enduring a year’s worth of precipitation in half a day. Five regions in the UAE said they received double their normal annual rainfall in less than a week.

Vehicles were abandoned on the streets as flood waters rose, with some cars drowning completely in sinkholes. Water burst through ground-floor windows and doors to flood some buildings:

The first fatality from the floods was reported on Tuesday in the city of Ras al Khaimah, a luxury real estate hotspot with some of the most expensive property in the Emirates. A man in his seventies was attempting to drive through the flooded streets and lashing rain when the currents swept his vehicle away. His body was later recovered by rescue workers.

On Friday, the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers announced that three Filipino workers in the UAE were killed by the floods. Two were women who suffocated inside their vehicle when it was overwhelmed by flood waters in Dubai, while the third was a man who died when his car fell into a sinkhole in the city of Sharjah.

Traffic in Dubai came to a standstill on Wednesday, many drivers choosing to abandon their vehicles rather than risk the flood waters. People who chose to walk away from their cars reported trudging through knee-deep water to get off the highway. Municipal officials decided to remove some central barricades to create more U-turn opportunities for drivers who decided not to risk heavily flooded streets.

“In 22 years that I’ve lived in Dubai, this is the first time I have seen the roads flooding like this. I was praying the water would not come into the car or we would be stranded like others,” said a woman who spent five hours trying to reach Dubai International Airport.

The airport, among the busiest in the world for international travelers, was forced to cancel many of its flights on Tuesday and shut down completely for brief periods on Wednesday. A total of 1,244 flights were canceled on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 41 more were diverted, many of them to Abu Dhabi.

Officials said normal airport operations should resume on Friday. Students were instructed to remain at home and use remote learning resources through the end of the week, and government employees and contractors were also told to work remotely if possible.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad, the crown prince of Dubai, praised the efforts of officials and rescue workers to minimize death and disruption from the floods.

“Dubai’s resilience grows with every challenge, ensuring we continuously adapt, improve and progress for the sake of our people’s safety,” Hamdan said.

“Crises reveal the strength of countries and societies … and the natural climate crisis that we experienced showed great care, awareness, cohesion and love for every corner of the country from all its citizens and residents,” he said.

Not all of Dubai’s citizens were pleased with their government’s conduct. Rumors quickly spread on Emirati social media that the torrential rain was caused by cloud seeding operations that got out of control. Some news organizations reported that cloud seeding planes were active on Sunday and Monday, right before the torrential rains began in earnest.

Meteorologists said that even the most aggressive cloud seeding program, which involves pumping salts into clouds to induce raindrop formation, could not have caused or significantly worsened the storms that swept the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman. Some meteorologists said it would be odd if cloud seeding planes had been active over the weekend, as a severe weather event was predicted well in advance.

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