'Horrific' Dubai floods rock picture-perfect city

If Dubai is the ultimate Instagram city, this is the week the filter was launched.

For an unprecedented 48 hours, the skies of the United Arab Emirates darkened and torrential storms washed away Dubai's idyllic image.

About 25 cm (10 inches) of rain – almost double the UAE's annual average – fell in one day, submerging much of the city's external infrastructure under water.

Jordache Ruffels, a British expat living in Dubai, told BBC News that experiencing the storms was like “living at the end of the world.”

From his apartment overlooking the city's usually quiet marina, he watched furniture falling from balconies due to the strong winds and Rolls-Royce cars abandoned on roads that suddenly turned into rivers.

“We live high up, and we could barely see anything behind the balcony…it seemed like the middle of the night in the middle of the afternoon,” he said.

A group of four large storms, each 15 kilometers (9 miles) high in the atmosphere and fed by powerful jet streams, barreled into the UAE one after the other, according to meteorologists at BBC Weather.

Heavy rain falling on the Gulf's desert landscape was not unheard of, and residents were warned via a public warning system – but Dubai's weather infrastructure was not prepared for the worst rain since 1949.

In many ways, few modern cities have been able to overcome the scale of the deluge that hit Dubai this week.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Roads near some of Dubai's most famous landmarks were flooded within hours

Caroline Seibert, 29, from the United Kingdom, was with her husband at a shopping mall when the storm hit.

“The mall was flooded and the ceilings collapsed,” she added. “We were asked to leave, but the metro was closed and taxis were not running.

“We were stranded and had to sleep in the mall lobby all night.”

Matt Weir, a British teacher who has lived in Dubai for 10 years, said that “people knew” that a storm was coming, but its force left “living areas under water.”

While the forecast looks blue and sunny for next week, some storms are still possible – and with roads and other infrastructure continuing to be crippled, Dubai's rulers are counting the cost.

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Nahyan issued a general order to “the authorities quickly work to study the state of infrastructure throughout the Emirates and limit the resulting damage.”

They were government employees Tell To work from home until the end of the week, while private companies remained so I encouraged To do the same thing. Schools were closed across the country.

So far, the official death toll in the UAE is just one person, an elderly man who died when his car was swept away in Ras Al Khaimah, according to local media.

Video explanation, Watch: Heavy rain causes floods in Dubai

Some of the worst disruptions occurred at Dubai International Airport, the world's second busiest, where nearly 90 million people – more than the population of Germany – are expected to pass through in 2024.

It is an important hub for travel to the Gulf and connecting flights to further afield, but witnesses say it has descended into chaos after the floods.

The flooded runway meant planes were unable to reach the runway for take-off and passengers were left stranded in the airport building.

The country's state-owned airline Emirates has been forced to stop accepting check-in passengers at all. Although it has since reopened check-in, it says many passengers are “still waiting to board flights.”

Comment on the photo, Volunteers use any means necessary to help their neighbors

Joe Riley is among the travelers left in limbo. The 41-year-old was returning to the UK from Vietnam via Dubai with her daughters Holly, 13, and Ruby, nine, when the storm hit.

After two and a half hours of flying over the Gulf waiting for a chance to land, they eventually landed at another airport in Dubai, before being asked at midnight to board a bus to head to their original destination.

She told BBC News that her two daughters were “practically crushed in a stampede as hundreds of desperate people fought for a seat on the bus.”

Once they finally arrived at Dubai International Airport, the situation couldn't have been better. “We asked can we get water, can we get food? Nothing. There's nothing here. People are really bad,” Joe said.

“We've been told that Sunday night is the soonest we can go home, and we seem very lucky to have that option.

“Emirates says there are no hotel rooms, so I said, ‘Oh, do we keep sleeping on the floor?’” “They said, 'Yes, go and feel comfortable there,' and pointed to the corner of the check-in area.”

Comment on the photo, Jo Riley said her children had to sleep on the floor at the airport because there were no hotel rooms

Jonathan Finchett, also from the UK, described “horrific” scenes at the airport, as people arrived to find their flights had been cancelled.

He told BBC News that he saw families “barricading themselves behind a circle of luggage carts to keep themselves safe because they didn't feel safe because there were no staff at all.”

He said that the queues at the ticket offices were “total chaos,” adding: “There were hundreds of people pushing towards this place, as if they were being jostled. Suddenly I saw women screaming, saying that they could not breathe.”

Emirates said it appreciates “how difficult this is for everyone affected” and that schedules are returning to normal.

Dubai International Airport said: “We provided as much assistance and amenities as possible to the affected guests, but due to the blocked roads, it took longer than we would have liked.”

Regarding how things are now going in the city, Jordache Ruffels said that things are “practically back to normal” after the quick measures taken by the authorities. He added: “There is a feeling of unity and togetherness in times like these.”

The storms hit Dubai – a city of 3.5 million people – which its 100,000 residents would be unrecognizable to in the 1970s, before the oil boom.

There is also an annual influx of 14 million tourists, including influencers and celebrities seeking luxury hotels and glamorous backdrops (UK reality TV stars Joey Essex and James Argent were among those caught up in the turmoil).

Its modern image is accompanied by strong regulatory and political control over media content, where foreign publications can even be censored before they are distributed.

Some people living in Dubai, whom the BBC spoke to in recent days, requested that their identities not be revealed for fear of repercussions.

He told BBC News that he spoke to UAE residents who are angry about the lack of preparedness for these floods, and who know that extreme weather is a long-term problem facing the country.

Mr Hedges continued: “They have absolutely no way to voice their concerns legally or safely. If they did, they would be punished and repressed.”

He also said it was good for the country's poorest migrant workers – who make up the majority of the population and are likely to be hit hard by these weather events.

He added: “Emiratis will not suffer. They have jobs where they can work from home and drive SUVs. It will be expatriate workers who will suffer.”

BBC News has contacted the authorities in Dubai for comment.

Additional reporting by Emma Bingley, Rosina Cini and James Kelly

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