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Storm dumps heaviest rain ever recorded in the United Arab Emirates

A man tries to work on his stalled SUV in standing water in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday.
Jon Gambrell
/
AP
A man tries to work on his stalled SUV in standing water in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Heavy thunderstorms lashed the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, dumping the heaviest rain ever recorded in the country in the span of hours as it flooded out portions of major highways and Dubai's international airport.

The state-run WAM news agency called the rain "a historic weather event" that surpassed "anything documented since the start of data collection in 1949." That's before the discovery of crude oil in this energy-rich nation then part of a British protectorate known as the Trucial States.

The rains began late Monday, soaking the sands and roadways of Dubai with some 20 millimeters (0.79 inches) of rain, according to meteorological data collected at Dubai International Airport. The storms intensified around 9 a.m. local Tuesday and continued throughout the day, dumping more rain and hail onto the overwhelmed city.

By the end of Tuesday, more than 142 millimeters (5.59 inches) of rainfall had soaked Dubai over 24 hours. An average year sees 94.7 millimeters (3.73 inches) of rain at Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel and a hub for the long-haul carrier Emirates.

At the airport, standing water lapped on taxiways as aircraft landed. The airport ended up halting arrivals Tuesday night and passengers struggled to reach terminals through the floodwater covering surrounding roads.

One couple, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to speak freely in a country with strict laws that criminalize critical speech, called the situation at the airport "absolute carnage."

"You cannot get a taxi. There's people sleeping in the Metro station. There's people sleeping in the airport," the man said Wednesday.

They ended up getting a taxi to near their home some 30 kilometers (18 miles) away, but floodwater on the road stopped them. A bystander helped them over a highway barrier with their carry-on luggage, the bottles of gin they picked up from duty free clinking away.

Dubai International Airport acknowledged Wednesday morning that the flooding had left "limited transportation options" and affected flights as aircraft crews couldn't reach the airfield.

"Recovery will take some time," the airport said on the social platform X. "We thank you for your patience and understanding while we work through these challenges."

Police and emergency personnel drove slowly through the flooded streets of Dubai. Lightning flashed Tuesday across the sky, occasionally touching the tip of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. The city's driverless Metro saw disruptions and flooded stations as well.

Schools across the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, largely shut ahead of the storm and government employees were largely working remotely if able. Many workers stayed home as well, though some ventured out, with the unfortunate stalling out their vehicles in deeper-than-expected water covering some roads.

Authorities sent tanker trucks out into the streets and highways to pump away the water. Water poured into some homes, forcing people to bail out their houses.

The country's hereditary rulers offered no overall damage information or injury information for the nation, as some slept into their flooded vehicles Tuesday night. In Ras al-Khaimah, the country's northernmost emirate, police said one 70-year-old man died when his vehicle was swept away by floodwater.

Fujairah, an emirate on the UAE's eastern coast, saw the heaviest rainfall Tuesday with 145 millimeters (5.7 inches) falling there.

Authorities cancelled school and the government instituted remote work again for Wednesday.

Rain is unusual in the UAE, an arid, Arabian Peninsula nation, but occurs periodically during the cooler winter months. Many roads and other areas lack drainage given the lack of regular rainfall, causing flooding.

Rain also fell in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

In neighboring Oman, a sultanate that rests on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, at least 18 people had been killed in heavy rains in recent days, according to a statement Tuesday from the country's National Committee for Emergency Management. That includes some 10 schoolchildren swept away in a vehicle with an adult, which saw condolences come into the country from rulers across the region.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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