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UAE fights to recover from unprecedented floods

Two men walk through floodwater in Dubai.
Two men walk through floodwater in Dubai. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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Dubai airport has partially reopened to flights after its runways were inundated with rain.

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) struggled to recover from intense storms on Thursday, which saw the heaviest-ever rainfall lash the desert nation. 

The UAE's main airport worked to restore normal operations even as floodwater still covered portions of major highways and roads.

Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, allowed global carriers on Thursday morning to again fly into Terminal 1 at the airfield.

“Flights continue to be delayed and disrupted, so we urge you to only come to Terminal 1 if you have a confirmed booking,” the airport said on the social platform X.

The long-haul carrier Emirates, whose operations were impacted by Tuesday's tempest, stopped travellers flying out of the UAE from checking into their flights as they tried to move out connecting passengers. 

Pilots and flight crews struggled to reach the airport given the water on the roadways. But on Thursday, they lifted that order to allow customers into the airport.

Others who arrived at the airport described hours-long waits to get their baggage, with some simply giving up to head home or to whatever hotel would have them.

An SUV splashes through standing water on a road in Dubai, with the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel in the background. in Dubai
An SUV splashes through standing water on a road in Dubai, with the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel in the background. in DubaiJon Gambrell/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

The UAE's drainage systems quickly became overwhelmed, flooding out neighbourhoods, business districts and even portions of the 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road highway that runs through Dubai.

The state-run WAM news agency called the rain “a historic weather event” that surpassed “anything documented since the start of data collection in 1949.”

In a message to the nation delivered late on Wednesday, Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said authorities would “quickly work on studying the condition of infrastructure throughout the UAE and to limit the damage caused”.

On Thursday, people waded through oil-slicked floodwater to reach cars earlier abandoned, checking to see if their engines still ran. 

Tanker trucks with vacuums began reaching some areas outside of Dubai's downtown core for the first time as well. Schools remain closed until next week.

Authorities have offered no overall damage or injury information from the floods, which killed at least one person.

Climate change warnings

The UAE typically sees little rainfall in its arid desert climate. However, a massive storm blew through the country's seven sheikhdoms earlier this week. 

By the end of Tuesday, more than 142mm of rainfall had soaked Dubai over 24 hours. An average year sees 94.7mm of rain at Dubai International Airport. Other areas of the country saw even more precipitation.

The flooding sparked speculation that the UAE's aggressive campaign of cloud seeding –flying small planes through clouds and dispersing chemicals that encourage rain to fall – may have contributed to the deluge. 

But experts said the storm systems that produced the rain were forecast well in advance, and that cloud seeding alone would not have caused such flooding.

Scientists also say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme storms, droughts, floods and wildfires around the world. 

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Dubai hosted the United Nations’ COP28 climate talks just last year.

Abu Dhabi’s state-linked newspaper The National in an editorial Thursday described the heavy rains as a warning to countries in the wider Persian Gulf region to “climate-proof their futures.”

“The scale of this task is more daunting that it appears even at first glance, because such changes involve changing the urban environment of a region that for as long as it has been inhabited, has experienced little but heat and sand,” the newspaper said.

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