Road to Salalah a 'nightmare' as Omanis flee floods and heatwave

Extreme weather puts Oman on edge but 'staying inside is not an option. We have been in the lockdown for so long'

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From heavy downpours last month to extremely hot temperatures in August, Omanis are on edge as they look for a place to spend their summer holidays.

Flooding caused by heavy storms last month killed eight people in different parts of Oman, and destroyed properties, businesses and vehicles.

The government and private companies came up with a $12.5 million relief package to help victims.

But this month, with the mercury registering nearly 50°C, Omanis and expatriates spend most of their time in shopping malls or on the beach to cool themselves off.

“Staying indoors is not an option," Omani Mohammed Al Fraishi, 42, a construction company owner, told The National.

"We have been in the lockdown for so long. We cannot go for our summer holidays abroad in cooler weather like Europe or in the Far East.

"We are stuck here and it is getting a bit depressing to stay indoors all the time."

Oman has been in and out of lockdown since the start of the pandemic to control coronavirus infections.

Almost 300,000 people have caught the virus and it has killed 3,868. The current lockdown, which started on July 24, runs from 10pm to 4am for an indefinite period.

With travel abroad barred, many have decided to holiday locally at the southern resort of Salalah, just to escape the heat. But the drive there has proved perilous.

“The road trip to Salalah is a nightmare," Salem Al Marjabi, 39, an Omani secondary school teacher, told The National. "There are hundreds of cars on the road, from different cities in Oman.

"Twice we nearly collided with oncoming cars that were coming at a very high speed towards us."

She said the journey from Muscat, which usually takes eight hours, was closer to 13 hours this week.

Omani police issued a warning on Wednesday after the death of three people on their way to Salalah by road.

They said many more have been injured in road accidents as they make their way to the resort area.

Sub-tropical Salalah has mild weather during the summer, when the average temperature is about 27°C, compared with the rest of Oman, where it can soar as high as 50°C.

The popular Khareef season in Salalah attracts about 400,000 GCC tourists every summer, including 100,000 from the UAE.

The city attracts famous Arab singers such as Lebanese star Nancy Ajram, who performed there in 2019.

Other entertainment includes concerts, folk dancing, exhibitions, live performances, shopping arcades and traditional markets.

But the wealthy do not drive to Salalah. They fly to avoid the congested and sometimes fatal roads.

“There is no way I will drive to Salalah at this time of the year. It is a long drive and sometimes dangerous,” said Abdulamir Al Lawati, 52, a businessman in Muscat.

"I just take my family and board an aircraft. We arrange tours for sightseeing and rent a car there to go anywhere we want."

But cash-strapped Omanis find it cheaper to drive to the resort instead of paying the 78 rials ($202) a person for a return journey.

“We are seven of us, including five children," said Abdulrahim Al Saidi, 44, a civil servant. "It will cost us a lot of money in air fare.

"We just drive and pay a quarter of that airfare to buy petrol. The long route and the traffic is worth the risk because we simply cannot afford to fly there."

Updated: November 01, 2021, 12:24 PM