JEDDAH, Nov.27: The heaviest rainfall in years triggered flooding that wiped out bridges and streets in Mecca province, stranding Haj pilgrims and killing at least 83 people, none of whom were pilgrims. The deaths also increased worries about the country’s infrastructure as more than a million people made their way through the port city of Jeddah, the gateway to the Haj in Mecca.
About 1.6 million pilgrims have come to Saudi Arabia from abroad for the Haj this year, the world’s largest yearly religious gathering. The state-run Saudi Press Agency said Wednesday’s deaths were in Jeddah, Rabigh and Mecca. The statement blamed the deaths on flooding and collapsed homes.
The floods forced the closure of a motorway to Mecca, stranding pilgrims who were unable to complete their journey. A spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry, Brig Gen Mansour al-Turki, said yesterday that none of the casualties were among the millions of pilgrims.
At least 900 people had to be rescued after being stranded by the floodwaters, according to a statement by the kingdom’s civil defence rescue service on Wednesday. The downpours ceased yesterday but the rescue service warned residents not to go outside today as it expects to see more rain.
According to the civil defence, about 3,000 cars drifted away in the floods in Jeddah. An eyewitness said he saw at least 30 people carried away by floods in South Jeddah. Jeddah, which saw rainfall of up to 76mm on Wednesday morning, lacks drainage systems to handle the inundation, although the government says over the past five years it has allocated billions of riyals to developing such a system.