Alexandria braces for the worst of winter's violent storms

Authorities in Egypt announced city-wide state of emergency in preparation for Storm of Qassem

In this Aug. 8, 2019 photo, cement barriers reinforce the sea wall near the citadel in Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria, which has survived invasions, fires and earthquakes since it was founded by Alexander the Great more than 2,000 years ago, now faces a new menace from climate change. Rising sea levels threaten to inundate poorer neighborhoods and archaeological sites, prompting authorities to erect concrete barriers out at sea to hold back the surging waves. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Parts of the beachfront in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in Egypt flooded on Thursday as residents prepared for a torrential storm forecast to land in the next two days.

During autumn and winter, Alexandria is typically affected by violent storms, which have been given names by the fishermen, whose jobs are often hardest hit by such events.

Storms typically take place during the first week of December and are often among the more serious storms to sweep through the city each winter.

The Storm of Qassem, named after a fisherman who drowned during particularly bad weather decades ago, comes after another this month, known among the city’s natives as the Storm of the Sweep because of its characteristic strong winds and flash floods that “sweep” the entire city.

“The Storm of Qassem is right on schedule this year and we Alexandrians are not surprised in the slightest,” Khaled Mohamed, 34, tells The National.

"The city has grown significantly over the past decade or so and become much more densely populated than it used to be. I think this is why there is more damage being seen on the news this year."

A statement from the country’s meteorological authority said the peak of the storm is expected on Saturday but from Friday consistent showers of rain will fall on the city and these will intensify over the next 24 hours.

In a number of videos shared on social media on Thursday, vast waves could be seen sweeping parts of the city’s beachfront, some several metres high and strong enough to sweep rows of tables and chairs from a beachfront cafe, as the Mediterranean's waters flooded a beachside parking garage and some of the cars it housed.

While Alexandrians are used to such kinds of storms, hundreds took to social media last month to ask the government to upgrade the city’s drainage system, which many feel is ill-equipped to handle the sheer size of the city’s seasonal floods.

Authorities used vacuum tankers to suck up pools of water left over by the Storm of the Sweep, which last month claimed the lives of two sewage workers.

A statement from the governor’s office on Thursday aimed to reassure residents that Alexandria was capable of handling the severe storms.

However, some residents of the coastal city are more anxious about the weather this year amid growing debates about climate change, both on the international front and on the country’s various public forums.

“I’ve been in this city for over 70 years now, and I can tell you with the utmost certainty that these storms have gotten worse over the decades,” says resident Ahmed El Wakeel, 76.

“Winters in Alexandria used to be so romantic, now it’s just chaos every year. Many residents just opt to stay home now because of how unpredictable these storms have gotten over the years.”

Responding to forecasts from the country’s leading weather experts, authorities this week reinforced the concrete barricades on the beachfront to prevent the waters of the Mediterranean from flooding the city during winter.

Maj Gen Mahmoud Nafeh, chairman of the board of directors of the Alexandria Sanitation Company announced on Tuesday a city-wide state of emergency in preparation for the coming storm.

Photos on social media showed teams of public workers on standby with their vacuum tankers to pump out flood waters and keep traffic moving.

Alexandria's governor Mahmoud El Sherif on Wednesday night told a popular talk show that preparations for the Storm of Qassem were put in place two days ago in co-ordination with the Egyptian Meteorological Authority.

Updated: December 2nd 2021, 4:04 PM