Social media websites are awash with pictures of flooded underpasses and traffic snarls caused by exceptionally heavy rainfall in West Amman, Jordan. The skies ripped open late yesterday morning, quickly dropping several inches of rain across the capital city, overwhelming storm sewers and turning roads into raging rivers. I was there – it was a remarkable reminder of nature’s power, especially in this 4th-most-water-starved nation on earth.
Kharabeesh, the Jordanian satirical entertainment and media network, was quick to comment, posting cleverly Photoshopped images to their Facebook page, like the one above of a submarine navigating an Amman highway.
People hopped aboard the snarky train via personal blogs, Instagram and Twitter, posting comments accusing the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) of being unprepared for the heavy torrents that flooded the town.
Earlier that morning, I’d walked from one appointment to another, skipping across piles of discarded cigarettes butts and tossed bottles. As I ducked plastic bags blown skyward by the rising winds, I was thinking how this town needed a wash – that’s when I heard the first thunder-clap. Minutes later the rain began, and out came the stunned shopkeepers. Everyone was taking pictures, in short order they flooded the internet with proof of the storm.
The posted reactions ranged from comical to caustic, with pictures of people “swimming” and fishing in whirlpools. Others slammed authorities for city infrastructure that proved inadequate to handle precipitation. (Note: exceptional snowfall last December made many roads impassable and caused electrical power outages, closing many areas of Amman for weeks).
The Jordan Times reported several of the tweets: “I have always dreamed of visiting Italy’s Venice, but thanks to God and GAM, Venice came to us,” commented Dina (@Idiinaa). Maen Khaldi (@maen_Khaldi) wrote, “In the past, we used to take days off from school when it snowed, but nowadays if it rains for half-an-hour the whole capital becomes paralysed.”
Others were less amused. “I think it is time GAM did its job. It is unbelievable. It has been the same story for the past 10 years; if it rains a little bit Amman drowns,” tweeted Sami Jabri (@Sami-Jabri). Adham Etoom (@AdhamEtoom) said flooding in Amman is a form of corruption since human and financial resources are not properly utilized.
Many wondered if West Amman was underwater, how were the more remote areas in the country coping?
Within an hour, Monday’s storm had flooded major streets and tunnels, requiring hours of work by GAM crews to clear. GAM Public Works Department Deputy Director Yasser Atiyyat said in a press statement that everything went back to normal within two hours after the rain stopped in most parts of Amman. In actuality, traffic remained clogged through the evening rush hour.
GAM’s Road Department Director Ahmad Khreisat said that work on key roadway underpasses was challenged by power outages that prevented pump operation. Sand and construction material washed away by the surge blocked parts of the city sewage network, adding to the floods.
Khreisat blamed flooding on the city’s many construction sites, saying that an increasing loss of open space reduces the city’s ability to absorb the rainfall. He added that GAM is working to improve sewer networks to cope with heavy rainfall, but a larger question looms: which authority evaluates planning applications to assure that new projects don’t overburden city infrastructure such as storm sewers? Who checks that new buildings can be served by existing road networks without causing untenable traffic patterns? And why aren’t building codes being revised to require more stringent measures for surface water run-off capture and control?
Comedy aside, the floods were catastrophic. Civil Defense Department teams rescued four people stranded in a tent and five people whose house was inundated with rainwater in the northern city of Irbid. They pumped rainwater from dozens of houses across Amman were water levels rose above street level, and at least one city mall was closed due to flooded ground level shops.
At least three people died as a result of flooding. One woman was washed from in front of her house; her body was recovered 3 km away. In Amman’s Wadi Saqra area (walkable from my home), two men died after being electrocuted in a flooded building. Irbid experienced landslides that blocked roads, and uprooted olive trees and parts of nearby forests.
This weather is unseasonably cold and wet. Farmers are being urged to avoid picking olives during the current weather conditions to avoid any risks related to unstable ground conditions. To quote the ridiculously popular characters in the American TV series Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming”. Woe to the unprepared, and to all living in low-lying areas.
Lead images from Kharabeesh; all others by author.