A press conference was held on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Egyptian cabinet to discuss the measures taken by the government to deal with the "unprecedented" unstable weather forecast for Thursday and Friday.
The press conference was attended by the minister of water resources and irrigation, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of development, the minister of state for information, the minister of civil aviation, and the chairman of the Meteorological Authority.
Earlier in the day, the cabinet said that Thursday will be a paid day off for employees in Egypt's public and private sectors. The country's stock exchange and all banks will also be closed, and schools and universities will be shut down nationwide on Thursday.
"This press conference aims to inform the public of the seriousness of the situation and to urge citizens to commit to the recommended procedures," Minister of State for Information Osama Heikal said during the press conference, stressing that people should remain in their homes on Thursday and Friday.
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati reviewed a number of precautions and procedures that the ministry has taken to cope with the situation.
The procedures include reducing drainage from Lake Nasser to accommodate for the amounts of rain in the Nile and canals, and reducing the level of lakes.
"The procedures aim to alleviate damages to protect citizens and facilities," said Abdel-Ati, adding that dams built during the past four years in North and South Sinai, the Red Sea governorate, and the Western Desert will prove useful in dealing with the situation.
Eman Sayed, the head of the Planning Department at the Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry, said that the degree of danger is compounded given that the rains will continue for two consecutive days.
"The expected high level of danger from the continued floods for two days comes from the saturation of the land with rainwater, as the degree of its water absorption decreases, in addition to the reduction of the absorptive capacity of drainage networks," Sayed said.
Egypt has no comprehensive rainwater drainage system, and only relies on a 105-year-old drainage network to siphon rainwater. In an earlier statement on the floods that brought Cairo to a standstill last October , the cabinet said that Egyptian cities were built without rainwater drainage networks.
“Our country is characterised by dry weather, and the cost of setting up a network costs billions of pounds and our financial resources do not allow it.”
The governorates of New Valley, Matrouh, Giza, and Minya will be the most affected by the heavy rains, which will peak on Thursday, Sayed said. By early Friday, the rains will be concentrated on Egypt's northern coast.
"The rain is set to recede on the third day, Saturday, reaching the usual quantities that we frequently see in many areas of the country," she added.
During the press conference, Egypt's Minister of Civil Aviation Mohamed Manar reviewed the situation of Egyptian airports, saying that a contingency plan is currently being implemented, and "all necessary measures will be taken to ensure everyone's safety."
On Wednesday, EgyptAir called on its clients who have flights in the coming 48 hours to arrive at airports at least four hours prior to their international flights and three hours early for domestic flights, a statement by the Egyptian carrier said.
Mahmoud Shahin, director of the analysis department at the Egyptian Meteorological Authority, said, "This level of instability in weather conditions has not occurred with such force since 1994."
Minister of Local Development Mohamed Shaarawy said that his ministry is coordinating with the Meteorological Authority and the Ministry of Irrigation to address the situation during the coming days.
"The government started preparing for this wave of unstable weather four days ago. A state of emergency has been declared in all service agencies, while coordination is currently underway with the directorates of security and civil protection and the Armed Forces," Shaarawy said.
"It is expected that some areas will witness 60 to 70mm of rain," the local development minister stated, adding that the country will experience "unprecedented heavy rainfall."
The last heavy flooding to take place in Egypt, which occurred last October and brought Cairo to a standstill, reached 15mm of rain, overflowing drainage networks.
Last October's downpour that led to traffic jams in the streets of Cairo (photo: AFP)
Shaarawy also urged citizens to check official governorate web pages, which will post updates and news about the expected floods.
The minister said that one of the reasons Thursday has been given as a day off is to ease traffic congestion and "give room for the concerned agencies and emergency teams to move freely and swiftly. In addition, some roads might be temporarily closed while making available alternate routes."