Beachgoers ignore warning on water safety



As storms and heavy wind lashed the nation's beaches, Eid revellers appeared largely to have ignored official warnings to stay away from the sea.

Despite predictions that waves of up to three metres were likely to hit the coast yesterday and today, and a warning from the National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology yesterday not to venture out to sea, many people carried on regardless.

"Weather conditions are unstable," said a spokesperson for the centre. "There will be possible rain over most of the UAE, in some areas normal, and in other parts it will be heavy."

Dalma Island received the heaviest rain yesterday - more than 40mm, enough to cause flooding in some areas.

Yesterday morning, drizzling rain was recorded over several areas in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.

The rain is expected to spread over other parts of the country in the next couple of days. It was still unclear which areas would be worst hit.

Still, the sky was clear over the packed beaches of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Umm Khalid, from Jordan, one of the estimated 5,000 people at Abu Dhabi's Corniche beach yesterday afternoon, was unaware of any warning. "We woke up and came here, where would we have heard this?" she said. "If we see any danger, any rain, we will leave."

Many others took the same approach, with even the lifeguards saying swimmers had nothing to worry about, thanks to the beach's wave breakers.

"Every morning and every evening we check for weather updates, and we coordinate with police and coastguard," the lifeguard supervisor at the corniche said. "If the visibility is poor, then we close the beach."

He said their "guard was up", but there was no high tide danger at the beach.

"The real danger is at the unsupervised beaches," he said, adding that the biggest problem yesterday was litter washing up from the previous day's celebrations at nearby, unsupervised shores.

Barasti beach in Dubai was also packed, with a green flag indicating conditions were safe. Lifeguards scanned the waters for swimmers in distress.

One there said he was unaware of any warning, adding that the beach was shielded by The Palm Jumeirah island.

"Out in the open sea waves can reach three or four metres in height but we don't see those here because ours is a closed beach," he said. "The waves are blocked from reaching here by The Palm so it's safe. But at the beaches on the open sea there are some waves."

Magdy Hilal, 36, an Egyptian engineer, sat at the Jumeirah Public Beach with his wife Farida, grilling meat as their children aged eight and six swam nearby.

"I'm not worried," said Mr Hilal. "The kids won't go further than their feet can reach and if they do, my wife and I are here to call them in. It's very safe here.

"If you compare the waves that we get in Agami [near Alexandria in Egypt] to those here, the waves here are nothing. My kids have been in worse."

Many people had to abandon picnics late in the afternoon as winds blew at speeds of up to 35km/h.

At the seashore, some swimmers were unsupervised along Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed road on Yas Island.

The Roads and Transport Authority's ferry service was also operating as normal. The skipper on a ferry docked at Dubai Marina said that after analysing the conditions, it had been decided that it was safe for the ferries to head out to open sea, taking tourists around the Palm Jumeirah.

At the Dubai Marina Yacht Club, boaters were allowed out despite the warnings. "There is a warning in effect, but some boats went out despite it," the receptionist at the club said. "The Coast Guard is allowing boats out but at their own risk."

Kirk Marks, managing director of the Dubai-based aquatic education and services company, Australian International Sports Services, said officials were right to be vigilant.

"With increased wind and wave action, there is stronger danger for example of rip currents, which the majority of people are unfamiliar with," said Mr Marks. "Rip currents are a global natural phenomena and run along the shoreline up to five meters in, and can suddenly pull people into deep water."

He also said the age group most at risk internationally was young men. "In Australia for example, that group accounts for the highest water related deaths which includes boating, fishing and jet ski's. Some want to show off and that is when horrendous accidents can occur," said Mr Marks.

Brigadier Mohammed Al Kaabi, the Fujairah police chief, said police were ready for any rain-related accidents. He warned against swimming in flood-ponds, or sitting in valleys during heavy rainfall. Families need to keep an eye on their children, he said.

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