Death toll rises to 20 in Jordan school trip flooding tragedy

As Israeli rescuers return home, general sends condolences to families of victims and notes similarity to Dead Sea flash flood in April that killed 10 students

Illustrative: Jordanian rescuers with sniffer dogs search for survivors of flash floods at the Dead Sea area, Jordan, on October 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Omar Akour)
Illustrative: Jordanian rescuers with sniffer dogs search for survivors of flash floods at the Dead Sea area, Jordan, on October 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Omar Akour)

The death toll from flash floods near Jordan’s shore of the Dead Sea rose to 20 on Friday, in what Civil Defense officials said was one of the deadliest incidents in the kingdom involving schoolchildren.

The search for survivors continued after daybreak, with helicopters and teams with sniffer dogs scouring the rocky slopes near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.

The body of a 12-year-old girl was found early on Friday and several more people were still feared missing, said the director general of the Civil Defense, Mustafa al-Basaiah.

Thirteen of the dead and 26 of about three dozen people wounded in Thursday’s flash floods were middle school children, officials said.

A child survivor receives medical care at a hospital near the Dead Sea in Jordan on October 25, 2018. (AP Photo/ Raad Adayleh)

The incident began early Thursday afternoon when 37 students from an Amman private school, along with seven adult chaperones, as well as other visitors were taking a break at hot springs several kilometers from the Dead Sea shores. Sudden heavy rains sent flash floods surging toward them from higher ground, sweeping them away, some as far as the Dead Sea, officials said.

Earlier, a civil defense official who asked not be named said the group was on a bus that was swept away by the flooding.

A complex rescue operation involving helicopters, divers, sniffer dogs and hundreds of searchers continued into the night Thursday and resumed Friday.

Israel’s military said it dispatched helicopters from the elite search-and-rescue Unit 669 at the request of the Jordanian government.

The Air Force said after midnight that the rescue mission had returned to Israel.

“We are especially able to sympathize with the Jordanian families because we also experienced a similar tragedy last April, when 10 students perished following torrential rains that caused flash floods during their trip in the desert,” Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon wrote on the Arabic Facebook page of the Defense Ministry’s liaison to the Palestinians.

“May we know no more devastating tragedies as these.”

In addition to the military, the Israel Police dispatched a contingent of search-and-rescue and medical specialists, as did the civilian Megillot search-and-rescue unit. The specialists later returned to Israel, though they remained on alert.

A general view shows the location of the accident where people were killed in a flash flood near the Dead Sea, Jordan, on October 25, 2018. (AP Photo/ Raad Adayleh)

Brig. Gen. Farid al-Sharaa, a Civil Defense spokesman, said Friday that the flooding was one of the deadliest incidents in recent memory involving schoolchildren.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II canceled a planned working visit to Bahrain, initially scheduled for Friday. He was to have been the keynote speaker at a security conference.

The king ordered the Jordanian flag at the palace’s main entrance to fly at half-staff for three days in mourning for the victims of the flood.

The UN secretary-general and several regional leaders sent condolences.

The low-lying Dead Sea area is prone to flash flooding when rain water rushes down from adjacent hills. In April, 10 Israeli students were killed in a flash flood while on a hiking trip near the Dead Sea.

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