Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Who’s to blame?

Is the dismissal of the Alexandria governor an adequate response to last week’s flooding in the city, asks Ameera Fouad

Al-Ahram Weekly

In fewer than nine hours of heavy rainfall, due to poor infrastructure and neglect, Alexandria was submerged in water on Sunday and five people died.

The catastrophe fuelled anger over the lack of response on the part of city officials, but it was not the first time that Alexandria has seen heavy rains. Every winter, Alexandria faces at least 18 rainstorms, according to the Egyptian Meteorological Authority. But the way officials dealt with the present crisis was unprecedented.

Last week, the Meteorological Authority announced the approach of thunder and rainstorms to coastal cities across Egypt. The announcement was made again last Saturday via state TV, as well as newspaper outlets.

It was on Sunday, from 2 am to 3 pm, that torrential rains and strong winds hit the city. The second-largest Egyptian city was submerged in what seemed the blink of an eye, leaving more than seven dead in separate incidents and widespread damage.

Flooding reached nine metres high in some districts. The ground seemingly slid away and main streets were submerged in water. Large hailstones broke windows and led to the destruction of many roofs, including that of the Bayram Al-Tunsi Theatre where parts of the inner ceiling collapsed.

Many apartments located on the ground floors or first floors of buildings were affected by the storm, causing widespread damage.

At eleven in the morning, as the rain poured down, life became completely paralysed. Just as the city’s infrastructure started to crack, the drainage system failed.

Due to the heavy storm, the main electric cables in the Moharem Bek district fell into the streets, causing a hazard for all who came near them. Five people were killed by electric shocks, including two children, Ali Khaled Ali and Ahmed Khaled Ali, who were on their way to school, as well as a man who tried to save them, Islam Baher Metwaly.

In a similar accident, Taha Mohamed Taha, 25, was killed after an electric cable fell from the tramways network and struck him in the Al-Mansheya district. Hassan Al-Nadoury, a naval captain and professor at the Arab Academy of Science and Technology, was killed in his car in the Montazah district while trying to get out of his submerged vehicle that had been flooded with rainwater.

Pictures of those killed in the storms soon went viral on social media, and people vented their anger against government officials who they said had failed to be ready for the crisis.

Children were stuck at schools for hours, waiting for their parents to pick them up, and their parents were stuck in traffic jams until late in the evening. Many employees had to walk miles to reach their homes while jumping through pools of water and sometimes getting soaked in sewage water.

Cars, taxis, micro-buses and even tuk-tuks were stuck in submerged tunnels, especially in the Smouha and Montazah districts. While trying hard to escape death, drivers, along with their passengers, were bathed in sewage water.

“Has anyone realised how much damage has occurred? How many cars were completely destroyed and how many houses were submerged and no one helped us? No one helped us until three in the afternoon, as if the city had no officials,” said Awad Mohamed Noah, a father in his thirties whose first-floor flat was flooded.

“We can understand natural disasters, but this was not a natural disaster. It was due to the negligence of city officials. I tried to call the emergency services more than ten times with no reply. I approached some officials in Montazah, and they did nothing,” Noah said.

“I have moved to my parents’ house with my children as my flat needs renovation which will cost not less than LE60,000, money that I certainly don’t have,” he added.

As the rain poured down, many garages, whose drainage systems had failed to absorb the water, were entirely flooded, causing damage in the millions of pounds.

“I never thought that because of the rain I would lose my LE250,000 car that was parked at a garage,” said Ayman Abdel-Fattah, a businessman who was awoken in the morning by screams that urged all car owners to retrieve their flooded cars.

“It is the city’s fault. I remember last year the drainage system of Montazah broke down completely and floods of sewage water ran through the streets for four days running. We had to take a boat to reach the next street. The matter was resolved with short-term solutions, which are no longer appropriate. The city needs to replace the entire sewage network with a new one as the problem is really serious,” he said.

Eventually, the army intervened at three in the afternoon and started to tackle the situation, deploying pumping trucks to deal with the water all over the city. “We need to be treated as human beings. I felt humiliated today, like every Alexandrian,” said Aisha Al-Toony, a woman in her mid-fifties.

“It took me more than six hours to get from Moharem Bek to the Sporting district. Usually, it takes me less than half an hour. Hearing of the deaths of two boys as a result of a faulty electric cable, I was afraid to take the tramway,” she said.

“I walked through garbage and floods of water. I felt humiliated. The city is full of heaps of garbage, and the governor has done nothing. Neither the garbage nor the sewage system nor the wildcat building problem has been solved. And now the city is submerged by rain,” she added.

“It seems that the city’s main emergency services came to a halt that day. The firefighting department was not answering, and ambulances took hours to reach their destinations,” Al-Toony said.

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail travelled to Alexandria to examine the damage caused by the floods. He announced that LE75 million will be allocated to upgrade Alexandria’s drainage system.

The administrative prosecution also opened an investigation of city officials on charges of neglect. This took place shortly after Alexandria Governor Hani Al-Messeri submitted his resignation.

It has been reported that this money was previously requested by Al-Messiri and the cabinet denied the request several times for financial reasons. The question now is whether the governor should be blamed for a sewage system that he had previously asked should be renewed, but had been refused by the cabinet.

Shocked by the situation, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi summoned the cabinet for an urgent meeting on Monday morning to issue guidelines to restore order in Alexandria. A statement was issued by the presidency regarding compensation for the affected families.

Alaa Youssef, a presidency spokesperson, said the president stressed that the government should be ready for similar crises before they unfold and the necessity of regular maintenance.

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