AMMAN (Reuters) - Rescuers combed the shores of Jordan's Dead Sea resort area early on Friday to find survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods that killed at least 20 people, most of them school children on a school outing.
Thirty seven people were rescued in a major operation involving helicopters and army and divers searching for survivors of the floods which swept through valleys to the shores of the area, the lowest point on earth, civil defence sources said.
Police chief Brigadier General Farid al Sharaa told state television the torrential rains swept away a bus carrying 44 children and teachers who were on a school trip picnicking in the popular destination.
The national flag was lowered to half mast in mourning as public opinion and politicians began raising questions in local media outlets about the preparedness of national emergencies services to cope with such a disaster.
Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said it appeared the school had broken regulations by going ahead with the trip which had been banned in the Dead Sea area because of bad weather.
An unknown number of people were still missing, hospital sources said.
A bridge on one of the cliffs of the Dead Sea had collapsed under the force of the rains, the first such after the end of the summer season.
Families of victims were searching the rugged area after search teams suspended operations overnight for a few hours, a witness said.
Neighbouring Israel sent search-and-rescue helicopters to assist, an Israeli military statement said, adding the team dispatched at Amman's request was operating on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Michael Perry, Richard Balmforth)