RIYADH: Heavy rains in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on Thursday delayed flights, forced school suspensions and closed the road to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, state media reported. Traffic on the Makkah-Jeddah Expressway in both directions was restored later in the evening.
Vidoes being shared on social media show vehicles being swept away in the flashfloods caused by the heavy downpour.
Jeddah, a city of roughly four million people positioned on the Red Sea, is often referred to as the “gateway to Mecca”, where millions perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages each year.
A local newspaper said the rain brought back shocking memories of the devastating flooding that struck Jeddah exactly 13 years ago in the same month.
Jeddah witnessed on Thursday torrential rain and flooding, accompanied by storm, thunder and lightning, in the city and most parts of the governorate.
Two people were killed while several people, who were trapped inside submerged vehicles, rescued, local reports said.
Reports quoting the National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) said the amount of rain recorded in Jeddah from 8am to 2pm Thursday exceeded the amount recorded in 2009, reaching 179mm in six hours.
Images posted to social media on Thursday showed standing water snarling traffic in Jeddah and partially submerging some vehicles.
The city’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport said that “due to weather conditions, the departure of some flights has been delayed” and urged passengers to contact carriers for up-to-date schedules.
The Jeddah Mayoralty is racing against time to restore normal life after deploying more than 2,500 workers, to flush out water and waste from streets to facilitate the resumption of traffic.
Flight and vehicular traffic were disrupted for several hours as major arteries and roads were inundated.
A state of alert has been issued and urged the residents to be cautious and not to venture out in rainy weather.
Residents took to Twitter and Instagram to share images and video clips of extreme weather conditions and scenes of vehicles being washed away. Vehicles broke down in a number of Jeddah streets as a result of the heavy rains that started hitting the city since morning.
The official Saudi Press Agency reported before dawn that schools in the city would be suspended as rains were forecast to continue throughout the day.
Schools were also closed in the nearby towns of Rabigh and Khulais “to preserve the safety of male and female students”, SPA said.
The kingdom is in the middle of final exams, yet schools had already been closed nationwide on Wednesday after King Salman declared a holiday following Saudi Arabia’s shock defeat of Argentina in the World Cup.
Winter rainstorms and flooding occur almost every year in Jeddah