Egyptians left reeling after eastern Cairo crippled by flash floods

Menna Alaa El-Din , Wednesday 23 Oct 2019

Cairo streets covered in rain water /AFP

Nermine Alfons, 35, and her two young children braved an unexpected ordeal on Tuesday when traffic in Cairo's Heliopolis district came to a complete standstill due to flash floods that hit the eastern part of the city.

Alfons was on her way home from Heliopolis to Sheraton after picking up her nine-year-old daughter and four-year-old son from school at 2:30pm.

“I tried to take detours. I tried everything. I couldn’t move, and suddenly it was 8pm, so we decided to park the car and walk all the way from Hegaz Street to Sheraton [a distance of approximately 17km],” Alfons told Ahram Online.

“My son couldn’t walk. So I had to carry him, with all the school supplies and everything. When we eventually arrived at the house, the children collapsed,” she said, describing the whole experience as an adventure.

“[The government] should have prepared better. They knew, they should have reacted. They have been making developments in Heliopolis. They have been revamping it. Why wasn’t this in the plan?” she said.

The Egyptian Meteorological Authority had issued a statement on Sunday warning that the country would see unstable weather Monday through Friday.

Eastern Cairo submerged

Alfons is not the only Egyptian that has expressed anger over the standstill that hit much of Cairo after heavy rainfall submerged streets in the eastern part of the city.

Public anger has mainly been directed at the government, with many accusing the authorities of incompetence and failure to manage the crisis despite the warning by the country’s Meteorological Authority of the impending unstable weather.

Many turned to social media to voice their anger over the crippled traffic, the children that were left stranded on school buses, and the flights that were delayed or cancelled.

At least five people died of electrocution on Tuesday in a number of governorates due to the rain.

Cairo governorate has said that it dispatched around 30 vacuum trucks to drain the streets in Heliopolis, adding that cesspits were not able to contain the high volume of rainwater.

The governorate's spokesperson has not responded to requests by Ahram Online for comment.

Some have even slammed major fast food chains, including McDonalds, for allegedly refusing to allow stranded children to use their bathrooms after spending more than five hours in traffic.

The damage was not restricted to public areas, with some reporting major damage to their homes.

Ayat Gawdat, a resident of Obour in northeast Cairo, says that parts of her apartment were flooded.

“The kitchen was a complete mess, and the power cut out from the beginning of the downpour [at around noon] until 10pm,” Gawdat told Ahram Online.

She said that she and her daughter had to resort to using her sister’s car to charge their phones after the power went out.

Schools and universities in Greater Cairo were shuttered on Wednesday, which resulted in the clearing of much of the city's roads of traffic.

Given the rarity of rainfall in Egypt, much of the country is not equipped to handle heavy rains.

Fighting water with humour

Mirette Barsoum, who got stuck in traffic as she was on her way from Heliopolis to Qasr El-Einy, told Ahram Online that she passed the time by browsing Facebook to see how the rest of the city was fairing with the crisis.

Barsoum found that, in typical Egyptian fashion, many were choosing to deal situation with humour on social media.

A group of teenage girls posted a video filmed in Hall 2 of Terminal 1 at Cairo International Airport, which was flooded. The girls can be seen in the video, which was posted on Tik Tok, riding their suitcases like boats through the shallow water.

Another image posted on social media shows a person wearing a swim cap and trunks, seemingly prepared to jump Olympic-style into the floodwaters.

Others created images making light of the situation, such as an image showing Tom Hanks' character from the blockbuster film Cast Away floating on a raft in a flooded Cairo street.

Déjà vu

While many cracked jokes, others lamented the repeated inefficiency of the government in handling the crisis, which is reminiscent of similar flooding that took place in recent years.

The new regional road that connects major highways nationwide was closed on Tuesday after a 150-metre-long and 30-metre-deep sinkhole formed in the road.

The collapse comes only one year after the mega road, which is expected to save the country EGP 800 million annually, was opened, leading some to question the structural integrity of the country's newly built facilities.

Last year, New Cairo saw heavy downpour that buckled roads, damaged buildings, cut power and brought traffic to a standstill on major thoroughfares, sparking anger by residents of the city, which was built more than only two decades ago.

The rainy season starts in Egypt in October and ends in late April, although rains are typically rare across the country, with heavier rainfall in coastal areas.

Tuesday’s rainfall was reminiscent of a deadly flash flood in 2015 in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, which killed five people and led to the resignation of then-governor Hani El-Mesery, who had warned ahead of the crisis that the city had not undergone any infrastructure development for 15 years.

The cabinet held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the repercussions of the rainfall, and said in a statement that Egypt currently lacks the resources needed to install the necessary drainage systems, which would cost billions of pounds.

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