Video Credit: Gulf News

Dubai/Sharjah: Ever since Tuesday’s record rainfall in the UAE, several heroes without capes have been wading through flooded streets to help those stranded in various parts of Dubai and Sharjah.

The incredible spirit of humanity and solidarity among these community volunteers has offered a lifeline for marooned residents requiring food, water and medicines.

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While authorities have ensured most areas in the country are back to normal, some areas remain under stagnant floodwater. Complementing the efforts of government agencies are some existing community organisations and newly formed groups of volunteers most of whom were strangers to each other.

Though the priority on the first day was to rescue people and cars from floodwaters and help transport stranded people to safety, the focus soon shifted to aiding those who are stuck in buildings surround-ed by stagnant water, day and night.

Muneer Al Wafa, who started the Rain Support UAE WhatsApp group and a website with the same name, told Gulf News on Friday: “We have a backend support group who are sorting all the requests coming through our website and seven WhatsApp groups with around 6,000 members. There are around 120 volunteers from the group who are involved in distributing food, water and medicine day and night. Most of the members in the groups are contributing in different ways whether it is to in-form people in need or to pool resources or help with information on roadblocks and flight updates.”

Amal Gireesh, an active member of the group, has been in the forefront of volunteering activities since Tuesday. The Indian expat, who helped transport 20 people to safety in Dubai on Tuesday night, has been out on the streets again to supply food and water to residents of Sharjah since then.

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Off-roaders the saviours

Amal, said the volunteers came up with makeshift arrangements such as using buckets and ropes to help residents living on higher floors to collect food and water from the flooded streets.

Since Thursday, he said, the group started transporting food with the help of kayaks. “That became possible after we got amazing support from LC Offroaders and ME4X4 Off-roader club. These groups’ riders of different nationalities have been willing to drive through deep water, even if it meant their cars might get damaged and some did get damaged. I really don’t know how to thank them for their support. There were tears in the eyes of the people when we reached out to them in kayaks,” said Amal.

He said the off-roaders’ groups provided professional support for relief operations. “They used walk-ie-talkies for effective coordination. One of their members, Hubb, and his son Lewis, gave volunteers a quick training on how to use the kayaks and navigate them easily while doing proper weight manage-ment to avoid sinking. Their big cars’ lights helped us navigate through the dark streets without electricity. The kayaks have been mainly useful in Al Majaz, Al Qassimia and Abu Shagara areas where it hasn’t been possible to reach by cars.”

Members of the Rain Support UAE group along with the off-readers who joined together for relief operations in Sharjah on Thursday night.

Rescue amid relief works

Another volunteer with Amal, Deepu AS, who is also the general-secretary of AKCAF Association, an apex body of college alumni groups from Kerala, said the volunteers have sourced and provided medicines even to cancer patients. They reported to the authorities some hazardous situations that they came across such as partially submerged AC compressors that were still working. “We even managed to rescue two people by shifting them to hospitals with the help of Sharjah authorities — an Indian man, who suffered a heart attack, and an elderly Arab man who required dialysis.”

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On their way, Amal said, they saw some workers helping a pregnant woman to cross the flooded street to reach the main road where her husband was waiting with their elder child. “I was so touched to see that some Bangladeshi workers had made a raft with thermocol sheets. We then arranged a chair and carried her to the other side. Those workers deserve appreciation for helping move elderly and sick people out of their marooned buildings.”

He said the team also got support from many residents of different nationalities. “On seeing us helping people, some Arabs and others came forward to contribute relief goods.”

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ICF volunteers clean up the sludge from the premises of a mosque in Hili, Al Ain, on Thursday night.

More groups of volunteers

The team also bumped into the volunteers from another WhatsApp group named E-Support Volunteers. “It was created by one guy called Rafi. Their volunteers were also very active in relief operations,” said Amal.

On Friday night, they were joined by a team from local non-profit organisation UAE Rescue. “They came with big trucks, which was a big solace to us. They were helping evacuate stranded people. They have been distributing essentials also. Last night, we managed to reach many flooded areas in their trucks,” said Amal.

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ICF volunteers help children, who came to collect food and water, to return to their buildings in the inflatable boat carrying the essentials in Sharjah on Friday.

Members of the Indian Cultural Foundation (ICF), the volunteers’ wing of Dubai Markaz Centre, were also active in flooded areas in Sharjah. “ICF volunteers have helped hundreds of people in the waterlogged areas. They have been distributing food, water and other essential items and helping transport sick people to hospitals. We have started using inflatable boats, said PKC Mohammed Saqafi, president, ICF Sharjah Central.

Meanwhile, ICF volunteers in Al Ain helped clean up piles of sludge from the Jaber Saeed Ali Jaber Masjid in Hili on Thursday night so that worshippers could attend Friday prayers. They extended similar service to houses in the Jimi area on Friday, said coordinator Saidalavi Haji Kuttippala.

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Mudon residents help evacuate their neighbours from their flood-hit villas on Thursday.

Neighbours helping neighbours

Meanwhile, in Dubai, several residents of Mudon community joined hands to support their neighbours who were affected by record rainfall. “We neighbours in clusters that were not affected helped neighbours from the clusters that were badly hit. We created a volunteers’ WhatsApp group which helped in arranging food supplies and boats to evacuate families from flooded houses. People opened their homes to accommodate them. Residents are helping the neighbours with groceries and other essentials and cooking food to be given to affected residents, security guards and people working on pumping off the water from the community,” said Poonam Chawla, a resident of Arabella 3, Mudon.

She specifically appreciated the efforts of a neighbour, Rebeca Hedley, who extended a helping hand with food, water, and medicines to some affected families and a child of determination using a kayak.

Corporate volunteers

Praveen K Prabhakaran, spokesperson of Aster Volunteers, said the volunteers offered support to their coworkers and their families who are facing post-rain challenges. “Our volunteers are working tirelessly to provide essential aid such as food, water, medicine, and teleconsultation services to en-sure their safety and well-being during this difficult time. We stand united in our efforts to assist those in need and will continue to extend our support to the affected individuals and families in Dubai and Sharjah. Additionally, 25 dedicated Aster volunteers are currently involved in the relief efforts, and we have already provided support to over 50 families to date. Our relief efforts remain ongoing as we strive to reach and assist more individuals and families in need across various affected areas, including Fujairah, Ajman, and RAK,” he said in a statement.

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Aster Volunteers swung into action to support their coworkers and families hit by record rainfall.

Many food businesses also came forward to offer free meals and food supplies to the affected residents. A group of restaurants and cafés in Dubai offered free community support meals on Friday. While some water companies provided free drinking water, a dairy company offered 1500 bottles of long life milk in Sharjah.

A poly clinic group has announced free medical consultations to affected families for three days at its branches in Abu Shagara, Al Ghusais, and Rashidiya.

“This initiative is being undertaken in collaboration with supportive organisations like the Indian Consulate in Dubai, Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre and the Indian Association Sharjah,” a message broadcast by the group said.

Risks and praises
Amal said the volunteers have been risking their safety and that of their vehicles when they go to flooded streets. “As a water treatment expert, I know sewage mixes with floodwater, posing infection risks. So, all volunteers need to take care of themselves. We have given guidance to all. The helping mentality of all has made us forget all the risks. The real spirit is when we see the happiness of people when they get water and food from us.”
Videos shared by the group showed grateful residents thanking the volunteers. In one video, residents from some buildings were seen clapping and whistling as the volunteers continued relief works in the wee hours of Saturday.
“That was the happiest moment in the last couple of days of volunteering activities. A huge clap from the top of the building at our Al Majaz base point — from at least 10 floors above when we were brief-ing all the volunteers on tomorrow’s volunteering activity and we were thanking each other for the excellent job today,” said Deepu.
In another video, an Arab man is seen praising the volunteers from the Indian expat community, especially those from the South Indian state of Kerala. The Malayalee community volunteers were also appreciated by their Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a post on X expressing solidarity with the UAE that is home to more than 3.5m Indians including more than one million Keralites.