Qatar 'at near standstill' after being deluged by year's worth of rain

Schools and malls in Qatar were closed, hotels were affected and the rain forced the United States Embassy there to shut down.
Schools and malls in Qatar were closed, hotels were affected and the rain forced the United States Embassy there to shut down.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DOHA • Qatar was hit by more than a year's worth of rain in a matter of hours, almost bringing the country to a standstill and prompting the Premier to order an inquiry.

The deluge in Doha on Wednesday blocked several roads, making some impassable for commuters and causing huge congestion.

Schools and malls were closed, hotels were affected and the rain forced the United States Embassy in Qatar to shut down. The embassy said its offices would not open again until next week.

The Interior Ministry pleaded for drivers to take care in the rainy conditions.

Worst hit seemed to be the area around Doha's Hamad International Airport, where almost 80mm of rain fell, according to the Qatar Meteorology Department.

Social media users reported leaks at the facility, which opened just last year after being constructed at an estimated cost of US$17 billion (S$24 billion).

However, Hamad International said flights operated normally throughout the day.

In response to the scale of the problems, Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah Nasser Khalifa al-Thani has ordered an investigation, said the official Qatar News Agency (QNA). He said those responsible for "flawed projects" could face possible prosecution.

"It was decided to refer all stakeholders and companies implementing the flawed projects that were revealed by the rainy weather currently experienced by the country, to investigate and then to public prosecution, the Prime Minister instructed," reported QNA.

As many as five unnamed companies could face prosecution, said the report, citing the government communications' office.

The scale of the disruption was especially worrying as Qatar has undertaken a more than US$200 billion infrastructure programme to ensure it is ready for the Fifa World Cup finals, which it will host in 2022.

Qatar is well-known for its fierce summer temperatures, which forced World Cup organisers to move the tournament to November and December for the first time.

Matches will be taking place at this exact point in seven years' time.

The World Bank calculates that Qatar receives, on average, 74mm of rain each year.

Bad weather across the region also affected neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where one person was killed during the flooding.

Schools were closed for a second day as rain continued to fall on Riyadh, flooding some streets and forcing drivers to abandon their cars.

About 10 cars were submerged under about 2m of water in a highway underpass in the Labban district on the capital's western outskirts, an Agence France-Presse photographer reported.

Workers were trying to drain the water into tanker trucks as light rain fell from gloomy skies.

The Civil Defence agency reported that 72 vehicles had been rescued in the Riyadh region with their occupants unharmed.

But one person died in Rimah, north-east of the city, the agency said.

Other parts of the kingdom have also been soaked this week.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2015, with the headline 'Qatar 'at near standstill' after being deluged by year's worth of rain'. Print Edition | Subscribe