‘A war zone under water’: Oman flood rescues continue as $12.5m is raised for victims

Weather forecasts predict more rain for the sultanate in the coming days

Oman’s public and private companies have so far donated more than 5 million rials ($12.5m) towards recovery efforts as rescuers continue to search for survivors after serious flooding hit the country.

Oman LNG, which operates in Sur – a town in Oman's eastern region that felt the worst of the flooding – made a 500,000-rial donation.

A spokesman for the company said the donation would be used to repair houses in Sur.

“Soon we will start doing rounds to see the houses that have been affected in Sur and start the repair work once the rains have stopped. It is part of our corporate social responsibility to help the community where we operate,” he told The National.

Oman's Civil Defence and Ambulance Department did not release figures on how many people had been affected by the floods but officials estimated that hundreds of homes across the country were damaged by the storms.

“I would say around 2,000 people have been affected and roughly 400 homes have been damaged across the country," one official told The National anonymously. "Half of the damage is in towns of the eastern region of Oman where the floods are worst."

Volunteer rescuers say they have been working around the clock in Sur and the towns around it.

“In some areas in the eastern region, it is like a war zone under water," said Qassim Al Farsi, 31, an Omani who lives in Sur. He said there was "water everywhere", with overflowing wadis, submerged cars, waterlogged houses and damage to water pipes and power lines.

Mr Al Farsi said shelters had been set up to house those left homeless by the flooding.

However, the worst may not be over. Weather forecasts predict more rain in the coming days.

“The rains will continue, especially in the Sharqiyah towns, in the governorates of Al Dakhliya and Batnah, and in Salalah. We caution people to stay alert and call the emergency services' numbers if affected," the Directorate General of Meteorology said on Wednesday. "They also need to be careful while venturing outside after the current lockdown."

Oman ordered a total shutdown over the first three days of Eid, from July 20 to July 22, to stop the spread of Covid-19. On Friday evening, the authorities extended the current stay-home period by a day to July 23.

But the authorities on Monday exempted Sur from the four-day restrictions to allow rescue teams to do their work.

The flooding has ruined Eid Al Adha for those caught up in it.

“This is the worst Eid of our lives,” said Basma Mataani, 42, an Omani from Jaalan Bani Bu Hassan.

“We were literally in water on the first day of Eid and we spent all day moving our essential belongings from our flooded house to a hotel provided by the government. The Eid gifts we bought for our children are all gone with the water. We salvaged what we could and the rest we left behind.”

Most Omanis do not insure their houses because it is not mandatory to do so. Only houses that are under the mortgages are insured.

“We are grateful to Oman LNG and other donors in the country for the kind gesture. I already paid the house mortgage and I did not renew the house after that," Said Al Alawi, a 66-year-old retired Omani living in Sur, told The National.

"If it was not for this donation, it would have cost me at least 3,000 rials to repair the damage."

Oman Television reported that the government formed a committee to evaluate the damage in the areas affected by the storm, which started last Thursday.

But its report did not elaborate further or say what action would be taken.

Environmental experts said that flooding caused by storms is not uncommon in Oman, especially in areas where the government does not own land.

“Such severity we see now happens every five years in the low-lying areas of the country, especially those towns that have a bigger numbers of wadis," Khamis Al Haremi, an Omani environmentalist, told The National. "The areas which are not impacted by floods have better drainage systems; that’s where the government now is distributing land for citizens.”

“In other towns, unfortunately, where land is majority-owned by private Omanis, the government cannot stop them from building their homes, despite warnings of potential flooding.”

Updated: November 1st 2021, 12:23 PM