Heavy rains, hailstorms paralyze Riyadh
Severe rains engulfed roads and hampered traffic in Riyadh Monday, to continue over the next 24 hours.
May 3, 2010 1:49 by Katherine Azmeh
Heavy rains, strong winds and hailstorms lashed Riyadh on Monday, causing traffic snarls as many roads were submerged. No serious accidents have been reported so far.
The downpour lasted for more than 45 minutes. An official from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment Protection (PME) said that the rains would continue over the next 24 hours. He described the weather conditions as “unstable” and said winds were blowing at 42 kilometers per hour from the southwest. The PME urged citizens and residents to take precautionary measures.
Minister of Education Prince Faisal bin Abdullah announced that schools in Riyadh will remain closed on Tuesday. Minister of Higher Education Khaled Al-Anqari also announced a one-day closure of public and private universities and colleges.
The General Directorate For Civil Defense announced a state of emergency in Riyadh. It warned people not to use their vehicles unless they were urgently needed.
Officials at the Saudi Red Crescent (SRC) were on high alert on the highway to help with problems due to road accidents.
The Riyadh municipality marshaled all its resources to help motorists pull stalled cars out of flooded roads. Municipal workers used special equipment to drain water from under bridges.
According to airport authorities, there was no disruption of flights as a result of the weather, but nearly half of the passengers who were to take the afternoon flights from the King Khaled International Airport to various destinations missed their flights because of the heavy rains on the airport road.
However, outbound passengers, who were taking the midnight flights took the Takhasussi Road, which was free of water clogging. Airline sources said that alternate arrangements would be made for passengers who missed their flights on Monday.
“There’s a blackout due to rains. We called 933 (electricity emergency) to notify them and were informed that this is the case in the entire northern parts of Riyadh and that it would hopefully be resolved in a couple of hours,” said a Riyadh resident.
Students faced a tough time returning home from schools as did people arriving at the airport. “We left school after 2 p.m.,” said Shuroog, 14. “We then picked up our mother from her work. Our car kept stopping because of the flood. It took us more than five hours to get home!”
“My flight arrived at 3 p.m.,” said Noora, 36. “I got home a few minutes after 5 p.m. because the streets were flooded and blocked. “There were stranded cars in the middle of roads, a truck was being removed from a pit it had fallen into.”
Senior officials from the Riyadh Traffic Department could not be reached by phone as they were busy attending to problems on the streets. Traffic officers took positions in all strategic places to warn motorists to slow down and to divert the traffic.
Motorists driving to the airport reported a number of accidents on the way. “The road was slippery and one had to be extremely careful while negotiating even slight curves on the highway,” said Vinod Menon who works at Exit 6 on the airport road.
“It was nightfall at 2 p.m.,” he said. “We could see only the lights of moving vehicles just as at night.”
Another driver took two hours to reach his house in Malaz from Exit 6, a trip that normally takes 25 minutes.
Not everyone complained about the rains, though.
“The rains have brought pleasant tidings for the spring,” an official from the Wildlife Conservation and Development said, explaining that the heavy rains were ideal for good plant cover.
People would see the blossoming of desert flowers and plants and green grass after the rains, he said.
The official warned residents who go to the green areas in the suburbs on picnics not to spoil the plant cover and the green grass along the water courses because these places are ideal habitats for both local and migratory birds.
“The rains will greatly benefit the wildlife, providing water and necessary food for its sustenance,” he added.
Monday’s downpour came about a month since Istisqa (rain-seeking) prayers were performed throughout the Kingdom on a directive from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
Eastern Province may be next
In the Eastern Province, the weather was pleasant on Monday evening although Dammam and Alkhobar had experienced incessant drizzling throughout Sunday night. However, an official of the PME warned of heavy rains ahead.
“Our department has issued a warning to all government departments to gear up for an impending storm,” said Mohammad Al-Qahtani.
“Our assessment is that the storm in Riyadh is heading toward the Eastern Province and may reach Dammam and Alkhobar in probably three hours.”
Al-Qahtani said the calm weather maybe an indicator of what is to come. “This may prove to be the proverbial calm before the storm,” he said.
Meanwhile, the duty manager at the King Fahd International Airport in Dammam said the storm in Riyadh has had no effect on flight operations in the Eastern Province.
“I have been on duty since 4 p.m. and have seen no flight diversion. Right now as we speak, the weather is fine and flights are operating on schedule,” he told Arab News at 8:50 p.m. “Yes, we have received an advisory from the weather department about the possibility of worsening weather conditions in the next few hours and we are keeping a close watch.”