News24

Saudi floods leave 48 dead

2009-11-26 11:01

Jeddah - Forty-eight people have died in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah following the heaviest rainfall in years, a rescue services spokesperson said on Thursday.

Some drowned or were killed by collapsing bridges and in car crashes, while the rescue services spokesperson said another 900 people had to be rescued after being stranded by the floodwaters caused by rainfall of up to 76mm.

The death toll is up from 13 reported on Wednesday, after heavy rains and floods hit the city on the first day of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

About 1.6 million pilgrims have come to Saudi Arabia from abroad for the hajj, the world's largest regular religious gathering, but none were reported among the victims of the flooding.

The floods did, however, force the closure of a motorway to Islam's holy city of Mecca, stranding pilgrims who were unable to complete their journey.

 An unidentified Saudi family walk through a flooded street in Saudi Arabia. (Hassan Ammar, AP)

The unusually heavy rains in the desert kingdom flooded streets and buildings in Jeddah, the main entry point for the pilgrims.

Government official Jassem al-Yaqout told Reuters on Wednesday that two bridges on the motorway to Mecca collapsed. A power outage hit parts of the port city, the state news agency SPA said.

Local Saudi newspapers have repeatedly reported on the poor condition of the city's sewage infrastructure.

In central Mecca, pilgrims with umbrellas usually used to protect against the sun walked the ritual path seven times around the Kaaba, the ancient cube-shaped shrine which Muslims face when they perform their daily prayers.

Some worried they would be unable to spend the night in a tent camp in a valley in Mina as they follow the route Prophet Muhammad took 14 centuries ago.