A n unbelievable downpouring of rain showers fell in Jeddah yesterday over a period of several hours, wreaking havoc on this normally very dry city and the surrounding area.
I woke up to dark heavy clouds and the rare sound of ominous thunder. I have never seen it rain here like this in the two years I have lived here. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had seen it "rain" here before, and I would have called it sprinkles not rain.
Since it rains so rarely here, Jeddah is not equipped to handle the flash flooding that comes with this type of heavy rainfall. There is no where for the water to go so the streets become like raging rivers.
Yesterday I would estimate in some areas that the water was at least three feet deep. Hundreds of vehicles were disabled and stranded and some passengers even required helicopter rescue.
I read this article in the Arab News reporting that at least 24 people died as a result of the flooding, but an updated article places the death toll now at more than 75. I saw children and grown men getting drenched out in the rain and wading into the waters.
Many of the main thoroughfares in Jeddah have curbed center road dividers separating several lanes of traffic, and then another set of curbed dividers for the service access roads. In many areas that I saw, these dividers were totally immersed underwater, creating a dangerous situation for vehicles trying to navigate their way through.
Some hotdog drivers (remember women are not allowed to drive here in Saudi Arabia) were weaving through the high waters at unsafe speeds, trying to create big waves to disrupt other safe-minded drivers who were not so daring, while others lent a helping hand to those who needed it.
Here in Jeddah, it is not unusual to see vehicles driving on the wrong side of divided streets, but yesterday it was even more common as drivers attempted to avoid deeper waters on one side of the street or the other.
Ironically this heavy rainfall coincided with the first day of Hajj, the religious pilgrimage to Makkah where millions of visitors descend upon this area of the world. Most of them enter the country through Jeddah, as Makkah is just a one hour drive away. Aside from some Hajjis being stranded due to the heavy rains, the pilgrims in Makkah surprisingly managed to go about their religious rituals relatively unaffected by the inclement weather.
Businesses experienced loss of sales, schools were closed early, and there were heavy traffic delays and electrical outages. I lived through many hurricane seasons in South Florida, and this episode in Jeddah would rival the amount of rainfall received in that area of the world, just without the high winds.
UPDATE: An Arab News report on November 28th says that as many as 350 people are still unaccounted for and hundreds of others' homes were destroyed by the floods.