8 dead in Egypt after chaotic day of heavy rains, flooding

Victims include 4 children; mayhem raises questions about Cairo’s ability to deal with heavy precipitation after years of poor maintenance of city’s sewage and drainage systems

Screen capture from video of flooding in Egypt, October 23, 2019. (Twitter)
Screen capture from video of flooding in Egypt, October 23, 2019. (Twitter)

CAIRO (AP) — Heavy rains that pummeled the capital of Cairo and other parts of the country, causing massive traffic jams and flooding many key roads, left at least eight people dead, including four children, authorities said Wednesday.

People captured images of Tuesday’s downpours and flooding on their mobile phones, posting images on social media, including scenes of cars submerged by flood waters.

In one dramatic video, a man on a bulldozer pulls the lifeless body of a little girl out of the water in a flooded area in northern Sharqia Province as shouts and screams are heard in the background. Another video shows a policeman, steps away from the presidential palace in Cairo’s district of Heliopolis, wading into a flooded street to unclog a sewage drain.

Authorities closed schools and universities in the greater Cairo area Wednesday and companies saw only skeletal staff show up at work. Authorities said later that schools would reopen Thursday. Adel el-Ghadban, governor of the Mediterranean province of Port Said, said schools would be closed across the province Thursday because of continued bad weather there.

The mayhem raised questions about Cairo’s ability to deal with such heavy rains as the city’s infrastructure and sewage and drainage systems have suffered from years of poor maintenance.

People took to social media to criticize the government’s lack of preparedness. Cairo, a city of some 20 million people, has been left for decades in neglect and decay, particularly its overcrowded neighborhoods.

Hashtags like “#Egypt is sinking” were trending on social media, attracting many videos and pictures of the most affected areas in Cairo and elsewhere.

Five deaths occurred in the Nile Delta provinces of Sharqia, Gharbia and Kafr el-Sheikh, according to the Interior Ministry. Three of the victims, including two children, were electrocuted. The other two victims died falling from the rooftops of their flooded homes.

Local authorities in northern Sinai also reported two deaths. Moataz Taher, head of the el-Hassana municipality, said in a statement that a 47-year-old farmer and his 13-year-old daughter died early Wednesday in the flooding.

In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the heavy rain caused a three-story building to collapse Wednesday, killing a 7-year-old child and injuring her 19-year-old brother, according to the city’s civil protection authority.

In Cairo, the eastern suburb of Nasr City was hit the hardest, but so was Heliopolis, located near Cairo’s international airport. The government said the two suburbs had received at least 650,000 cubic meters cubic feet of precipitation in just 90 minutes on Tuesday, overwhelming the city’s sewage and drain systems.

Vehicles stop in a traffic jam due to flood waters caused by heavy rains in Cairo, Egypt, October 22, 2019. (Tarek Wagih/AP)

Trucks fanned out across Cairo to drain water from flooded areas. A key highway connecting Cairo to other provinces was closed, the state-run al-Ahram daily reported.

EgyptAir said it had delayed some fights on Tuesday because passengers were stuck on the roads and unable to get to the airport. A part of the old Cairo airport terminal which has been under renovation was also flooded, with footage on social media showing rainwater pouring into the hallway.

The Civil Aviation Ministry said that terminal was only being used by a private carrier for one or two flights a day and shared photos of it after it was cleaned up.

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