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Saudi Arabia: Heavy rain floods Jeddah for second time in weeks

Authorities issue weather warnings in different cities as more rain is expected in the coming days
People walk through floodwater following heavy rain in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 24 November 2022 (Reuters/Saudi Press Agency)

Heavy rain, thunder and lightning have hit several regions across Saudi Arabia throughout Thursday and Friday, causing streets in Jeddah to flood for the second time in a matter of weeks as more heavy rain is expected in the coming days.

Footage shared online showed busy roads filled with water with many cars carefully cruising through. Other videos showed vehicles almost entirely submerged in water.

The National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) raised the rain alert level in Jeddah late on Thursday and kept it in place until Friday morning.

The heavy rain forced Jeddah universities to postpone classes and flights at the King Abdulaziz International Airport to be delayed, as a combination of thunderstorms, wind and hail led to poor visibility.

Jeddah's Basateen district recorded 54.2mm of rain, while the airport recorded 48mm, according to the NCM.

The city's ambulance service also said they had raised their level of preparedness on Friday.

Residents of the holy city of Mecca were advised by authorities not to leave their homes for non-essential reasons while the alert was in place.

Social media users posted videos of the heavy downpour at the Grand Mosque as worshippers circled the Kaaba.

Rain alerts were issued for other cities, with NCM expecting moderate to heavy rain levels until Tuesday in the provinces of Mecca, Madina, Riyadha, al-Qassim, al-Baha, and the Eastern region.

Last week, properties and vehicles were damaged as flash floods hit Mecca.

Repeated tragedies 

Jeddah, a city of roughly four million people located close to the Red Sea, is often referred to as the "gateway to Mecca", where millions perform the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages each year.

Winter rainstorms and flooding occur almost every year in the city, where residents have long decried poor infrastructure. 

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In 2009, floods killed 123 people in one of the worst flood-related incidents in the country. Last month, two people died after floods swept across the city following record levels of rain. 

The floods hit low-income Saudis and migrant workers the hardest. Several people who spoke to MEE after last month's flooding said that most residents with used cars have no hope that their vehicle repairs would be covered by insurance, despite promises of compensation by municipal authorities.

According to a 2015 study published in the Geomatics, Natural Hazards and Risk journal, flash floods have been happening in Jeddah since the 1970s, with heavy rainfalls recorded in 1972, 1977, 1979, 1992 and 1996, though the heaviest occurred in November 2009 and January 2011. 

In those two incidents, the average damage was approximately 10 billion Saudi Riyals ($2.6bn).

The main reasons for the repeated issue are unplanned urban development, climate change and the geomorphological features of Jeddah, the study said.

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