Tell me if this is a good way to spend the day: You take the kids and the wife to a spot outside of the city during the rainy season to watch the water slam car-size boulders and mammoth trees down the wadi. To get a better look, you decide to leave safe high ground and skirt the edge of the flood.
There are universal truths in Saudi Arabia that can’t be disputed: Careless Saudis and raging floodwaters often end in tragedy.
Take what occurred in 2009 outside Riyadh. Heavy flooding washed mud and debris through a wadi at terrific speeds. Saudis by the dozens dropped everything and raced down to the edge of the floods in their cars and sport utility vehicles. One SUV got too close and was washed into the water. A man and woman couldn’t leave the SUV, but two bystanders attempted to rescue the woman by opening the passenger door and getting her out, only to have all three washed away. The driver managed to escape relatively unscathed.
The two bystanders and the woman survived, but the same can’t be said for two brothers the other day in Taif. These guys were walking too close to the flooding at Klakh Dam when one slipped in the water. The other brother attempted to rescue him and fell in the water as well. Both men drowned.
Taif Civil Defense reported that it had rescued 35 people and towed 50 vehicles to safety during heavy flooding. Two children drowned in an unrelated incident as well as a man who fell off a bridge while watching the flooding and another who got caught inside his car as the flood washed his car away.
A quick look at any flood-related YouTube video demonstrates the complete insanity some Saudis engage in to get their fill of live entertainment of watching floods, not from a safe distance but a half-meter from the water’s edge. They bring their wives and children as if they were having a picnic in the park.
The behavior of flood watchers and the resulting trouble they get themselves into have a tremendous impact on Civil Defense agencies throughout the Kingdom.
Last week alone Civil Defense authorities in Riyadh reported that 422 accidents occurred and nine people hurt. In all, the Civil Defense received 4,562 calls for aid. Civil Defense authorities are also expected to provide shelter and aid to people forced to evacuate their homes. They are also charged with dealing with the damage caused by flooding.
This is a full-time job that requires every able-bodied Civil Defense worker to be on duty. In Taif, where the two brothers died, 2,000 cases in less than 24 hours were recorded in areas where 11 villages are situated.
Yet considerable time and expense is paid to looky-loos who have no reservations about putting themselves in danger, and then expecting an already beleaguered Civil Defense team to rescue them if things get a little too wet. I can’t help but think that the Civil Defense is a little weary of selfish people who deliberately put themselves harm’s way and then expect immediate rescue.
I am not talking about people caught in their cars during unexpected flashfloods or people who have seen their homes — and even loved ones — washed away when they believed they were on safe ground. I am talking about individuals who deliberately drive into dangerous areas deemed off-limits by the Civil Defense to enjoy the spectacle of floods.
If the Civil Defense designates an area off-limits and individuals trespass anyway, then fines and jail time is appropriate to send the message that their behavior is not only dangerous to them but to people around them. Despite these terrible tragedies, some Saudis continue to engage in such careless behavior. If a court appearance and heavy fine makes such people think twice about what they do, then it means lives saved.
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