Rising waters turn flats into reservoirs

In one example of the damage done by heavy rains yesterday, villa residents flee for higher ground and report 'our things are floating'.

Abu Dhabi - December 13, 2009: Felicito Galang waits outside his flooded basement apartment  in the neighborhood near 19th street and Muroor Rd. Lauren Lancaster / The National *** Local Caption ***  ll1312-19thstflood016.jpg
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Abu Dhabi // Black flood waters yesterday turned neighbourhoods in the capital into swamps as basement residents waded out of their flats to build barricades, hoping to keep even more rain from cascading into their homes.

"Our things are floating," Terry Allauigan said, as clouds over the capital dumped more rain on her villa residence in Al Muroor. "The fridge, our electronic things, our computer, it's all gone," said Ms Allauigan, 52. The Filipina housekeeper has shared a room in the basement with two other residents since 2006. Water levels outside rose to just centimetres below the kerb, submerging speed humps as cars splashed past.

"Before, we went inside and the water was up to here," Ms Allauigan said, pointing to her knee. She did not want to guess how much damage had been done to her personal belongings. None of the occupants had disaster insurance. "The important things we grabbed - like our passports and labour cards," added Marlene Abenden, who shares a room next door. "I'm afraid to go inside because you can look out there and see the street is like the sea."

The building's watchman yesterday helped to stack breeze blocks, plywood and sandbags outside a ramp descending to the living quarters below. Finding out where he would spend the night was the major concern for Onofre Arpalo, 51, another of the basement residents. The villa's landlord, Mohammed al Amimi, assured the displaced families they would have clean rooms for the week in an upstairs flat. He also brought in a 38,000-litre tanker to pump out the water and said he immediately cut the building's power when the flooding began.

Across the street at another villa, labourers shovelled dirt on to a kerb and laid plastic over the mounds to keep water from cascading into a basement kitchen and garage. Ahmed, an Emirati business owner, said his family had lived in the building for six years. "Everything is damaged," said Ahmed, 27. "The kitchen is all damaged. We have an elevator downstairs and I don't think it will work." He estimated that the water may have caused more than Dh1m worth of damage to the home.

"The street's drains are full," he said. "They cannot handle this." Mr al Amimi speculated that a properly managed drainage system might have prevented the flooding. He suggested that the municipality or the company contracted to manage the city's drainage should perform maintenance at least four times a year to ensure the pipes are not blocked by dust or rubbish. Outside, several of the basement residents thanked Mr al Amimi's father, Obaid, for buying and delivering seven sets of linens, mattresses and pillows for them to use. "All their stuff is wet and cold," Mr al Amimi said. "They need to sleep and at least we can do this for them."

The group huddled under umbrellas and cracked jokes, watching children from another villa splash in the puddles. "We cannot do anything about this water. If we think only about this, we will go crazy," Ms Allauigan said. "So just for now, we can laugh a little." Her husband, Felicito Galang, 46, also had a brighter outlook. Standing barefoot in the flooded basement, he noticed that the water levels had receded. Mr Galang was hopeful that the worst was over, so long as the downpour abated.

His optimism was short-lived, however, when Ms Allauigan looked skywards around 5pm and began shaking her head. Mr Galang also looked. "Very dark clouds coming," he agreed, and opened his umbrella. There were similar scenes outside the city centre in areas including Khalifa City. "There is water dripping into our room," said Shadi Hassan, a caretaker for a villa still under construction. "But the water has not entered the villa."

Mustafa Ali, a landscaper who was walking through a flooded street in order to reach a main road and hail a taxi, said some parts of the suburb were inaccessible owing to the rising level of water on the streets. mkwong@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Suryatapa Bhattacharya