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Death toll in Jeddah floods higher than declared.

Muhammad Humaidan | Arab News <p>JEDDAH: Arab News has learned that the number of victims of the Nov. 25 flash floods in Jeddah is higher than the official figure of 118 put out by the Civil Defense.

The head of Jeddah Health Affairs, Dr. Sami Badawood, has told Arab News that his department had notified the Makkah Governorate and the Civil Defense of seven flood victims. Their bodies were handed over to their families for burial with the knowledge of his department before the Civil Defense set up its disaster management team.

The revelation increases the number of victims to at least 125. However, the Civil Defense still puts the number at 118. The disparity raises the question how many other victims may be missing from the official death toll, possibly buried without the Civil Defense's knowledge.

The Civil Defense only formed the disaster management team and started issuing death toll figures a full week after the floods.

Given the tradition of burying bodies within a day of death, it is quite feasible that many were interred before figures started to be collated.

There are widespread rumors in Jeddah that the real death toll is considerably higher than the 118 announced -- figures of 500 and more have been suggested in the local press.

Whether true or not, the disclosure that not all victims are being included in the count is bound to reinforce those concerns.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Al-Qarni, spokesman of Civil Defense and director of the disaster management, said in a statement on Thursday that 48 people are still missing. They comprise 37 Saudis, four Yemenis, three Indians, two Sudanese, one Moroccan and one Kuwaiti. There are worries, however, that overstayers will not be included in the figures because no one is going to mention them to the authorities. There was a considerable number of overstayers in Quwaizah and Kilo 14, two of the worst flooded areas of the city. Of the victims whose bodies have been recovered, 96 have been identified. Twenty-two remain unidentified.

'Govt failed to protect KAU'


JEDDAH: Experts from King Abdulaziz University (KAU) have attacked government and private authorities in Jeddah for the way they handled the Nov. 25 deluge that hit many residential districts and destroyed KAU facilities.

"The authorities failed to contain the catastrophe by joining their efforts," said Abbas Al-Harithy, a professor of engineering and geology at the university, adding that every department was acting separately without coordinating their efforts with others.

Al-Harithy was speaking at a seminar organized by the Jeddah Municipal Council entitled "Management of Jeddah's Flood Catastrophe."

KAU President Osama Tayeb stated earlier that the university had to start from zero after the floods destroyed KAU's infrastructure. He said the floods caused huge damages to the colleges of engineering, meteorology and marine sciences.

"It is not the university's responsibility to build dams in order to protect its campus from floods," the president said. However, he pointed out that KAU had constructed a rainwater drainage network, adding that it was not strong enough to stop the flash flooding.

He said the university's buildings remained intact, but contents such as equipment, tables and chairs were damaged. KAU has presented a report to the official committee, showing it suffered losses worth SR1.6 billion. The floods destroyed the university's eastern, southern and northern walls, Tayeb said, adding that the pathway of floods created by municipal authorities was not enough to accommodate such a massive deluge.

"The entry of floods to the university campus reduced its force and protected people living in South Jeddah neighborhoods," he said. He pointed out that the university is not situated on any natural desert flood plain or wadi.

Asked why the university's experts did not warn about possible catastrophe from floods, he said the university had conducted a number of studies on the issue and made proposals. "But it was not at all the university's responsibility to build dams against floods," he said. Tayeb said the university authorities had held several meetings on how to overcome the situation caused by floods. "Heavy and sensitive equipment are kept in the basements or ground floors in line with international practice," he said. "We did not postpone classes because of the deluge thinking it would affect our academic plan."

The seminar, organized by the municipal council, was moderated by Tarek Fadaak, a member of the Shoura Council. Makkah Mayor Osama Al-Bar and Hussein Baaqeel, chairman of the Jeddah council, took part in heated discussions.

Fadaak wanted the authorities to take immediate action to prevent a repeat of the Jeddah catastrophe. He also wanted a study on Jeddah's geography and emphasized the need to make room for the natural course of floods. Mahmoud Al-Dauaan of KAU blasted the municipal authorities for not building rainwater drainage canals.

Arab News learned that Shoura members would visit the flood-affected areas next week to get first-hand information about the catastrophe.

Meanwhile, Amr Taiba, dean of the College of Environmental Designs at KAU, said his college's academic and research projects would deal with the Jeddah deluge. He said the water at the Musk Lake must be reclaimed as gray-water -- water that can be used for agricultural purposes.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Dec 11, 2009
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