ABU DHABI // Heavy rains, hail and strong winds caused widespread damage on Wednesday, inundating streets with flood water and leading to leaks and collapses in homes in Abu Dhabi, in a storm that left many residents shocked and concerned about more to come.
The “unstable” weather is expected to continue until Thursday evening, the country’s weather bureau has said, while Maj Gen Jassim Al Marzooqi, head of civil defence at the Ministry of Interior, urged the public to avoid leaving their homes unless necessary in such weather and to avoid flood-prone areas.
About 30 centimetres of rain was recorded in the country from Saturday until Wednesday at 7pm, the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology said. The previous highest accumulative rainfall for March was in 1982, with about 21.4cm recorded in Umm Al Quwain’s Falaj Al Mualla. Winds reached speeds of 126 kilometres at Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen airport.
The skies over Abu Dhabi turned almost entirely dark at about 11am on Wednesday, and motorists switched on their headlights as they nagivated through heavy traffic jams. From Abu Dhabi city to Al Ain and the Western Region, residents faced flooding, debris and other challenges.
Pools of water accumulated across the capital and strong winds left trees uprooted, street signs bent and billboards knocked over. In the outskirts, in areas such as Khalifa City, Baniyas, Samha and Tawelah, incessant rains and strong winds left streets flooded.
Some families whose homes in Baniyas were damaged were placed in hotels by Abu Dhabi Municipality.
Abu Dhabi Municipality received about 435 calls from residents, it said, and about 200 water tankers and 100 pumps were used in the city and suburban areas.
Abu Dhabi resident Rahmat Ullah Khan said he woke up at about 2am to the sound of heavy hail. At first, he did not know what it was but realised it was hail.
“I thought windscreens of cars would have been shattered, but thank God, it was safe when I got down in the morning,” he said.
“I don’t know how all of a sudden the weather of Abu Dhabi entirely changed, and it’s raining continuously for the third consecutive day.”
Many residents said they had not experienced such weather conditions in decades.
“In my country, such torrential rains are very common and people are ready all the time, but here it’s the first time,” said Bangladeshi Tayyab Shah.
Powerful winds knocked down wide slabs of a thick concrete and brick wall that surrounded an empty lot behind the Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company Building. Full floor-to-ceiling window panels from the nearby Abu Dhabi National Insurance Company building collapsed to the ground below, fully exposing the office space above and striking a number of parked cars below.
“There is a lot of glass on the floor and a lot of cars got hit,” said Reem Mourad, who lives behind the ADMA-OPCO building and whose car was damaged by a fallen tree branch.
“It’s all from the wind. It’s scary, I hope it doesn’t come again. It’s really scary. It feels like a disaster. It’s like an earthquake. A lot of damage happened.”
Her teenage daughter, Tania Al Bayatee, said she saw the aftermath of the wall after it fell and saw at least one person being transported away via ambulance.
The Red Bull Air Race cancelled all flight operations on Wednesday afternoon due to weather conditions, said Jim DiMatteo, race director.
“We plan to be fully operational tomorrow if the weather is OK,” he said. “For Friday and Saturday, we anticipate nice weather and expect to have a normal race.”
Meanwhile, with cancelled or delayed flights and trouble on the roads, hotel managers in Abu Dhabi said occupancy rates were up.
At Premier Inn Abu Dhabi International Airport, the occupancy rate jumped by about 10 per cent.
“With this bad weather, obviously, there are flights that are cancelled and the airlines are booking their guests here,” said duty manager Gaurav Bashyal, adding the hotel was 80 per cent occupied as of 6pm and was expected to be full by the end of the evening.
Business was up about 5 per cent at the Grand Millennium Al Wahda in Abu Dhabi as commuters decided to stay in the emirate overnight instead of battling slippery traffic conditions, said manager Marwan Mseikeh. He noted that the hotel was about 90 per cent full and guessed that 40 or 45 rooms were booked because of the weather.
In the Western Region, four traffic lights were damaged by heavy rains and storms in Sheikh Zayed City, and patrols directed traffic until they were fixed. The municipality used 15 tankers to pump accumulated rainwater.
Abu Dhabi Education Council said it evacuated teachers accommodation facilities in the Western Region, namely in Al Mirfa and Ghayathi, as a precautionary measure. The families were moved to hotels temporarily before being provided safer housing, according to the state news agency, Wam.
Western Region resident Tareq Mohammed, 40, an Emirati, said he was driving from Abu Dhabi to Madinat Zayed when the visibility suddenly dropped and all cars slowed down. He pulled over after finding it very difficult to drive, though he saw the rains as a blessing.
“After all this, I am happy to see such a good bounty of showers from God,” Mr Mohammed said. “Never has it rained like that.”
Abu Dhabi residents have been told they can report problems to the municipality emergency line by ringing 993.
Neil Irwin, managing director at insurer Marsh Middle East & North Africa, said it was still too early to estimate the full extent of the damage and losses caused by the storm, but it highlighted the need for homes and businesses to be covered.
“This storm serves as a reminder for the need for individuals and organisations to have effective plans in place, including insurance arrangements, to respond to the physical and financial impact of this and other complex emerging risks in the region. Once the flood waters recede we should be able to provide a more accurate assessment of the full impact of this unusual weather,” he said.
*Additional reporting by Nick Webster and Ramona Ruiz