Death toll in Jordan flood rises to 21, mostly children

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Civil defense members look for survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods, near the Dead Sea. (Reuters)
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Rescuers on a helicopter look for survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods, near the Dead Sea. (Reuters)
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Civil defense members look for survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods and left huge crevasses like this one. (Reuters)
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A member of the civil defense stands near an ambulance as they search for survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods, near the Dead Sea. (Reuters)
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Civil defense members gather to find survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods near the Dead Sea. (Reuters)
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Jordanian rescuers talk during a rescue operation for survivors of flash floods near the Dead Sea area on Friday, October 26. (AP)
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Jordanian rescuers prepare to search for survivors of flash floods near the Dead Sea area on Friday, October 26. (AP)
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Jordanian rescuers with sniffer dogs search for survivors of flash floods near the Dead Sea area on Friday, October 26. (AP)
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Above, the site of a bus accident, which was caused by flash floods, near the Dead Sea in Jordan on Thursday, October 25. (AFP)
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A wounded pupil lays on a stretcher at a hospital after a bus accident near the Dead Sea in Jordan on Thursday, October 25. (AFP)
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(Courtesy Twitter)
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(Courtesy Twitter)
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(Courtesy Twitter)
Updated 27 October 2018
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Death toll in Jordan flood rises to 21, mostly children

  • 34 rescued in an operation involving helicopters, marine divers, swimmers
  • Several more students were injured in the incident near the Dead Sea

AMMAN: Rescuers combed the shores of Jordan’s Dead Sea resort area early on Friday to find survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods that killed at least 21 people, most of them school children on a school outing.

Thirty seven people were rescued in a major operation involving helicopters and army and divers searching for survivors of the floods which swept through valleys to the shores of the area, the lowest point on earth, civil defense sources said.

Police chief Brig. Gen. Farid Al-Sharaa told state television the torrential rains swept away a bus carrying 44 children and teachers who were on a school trip picnicking in the popular destination.

The national flag was lowered to half-mast in mourning as public opinion and politicians began raising questions in local media outlets about the preparedness of national emergencies services to cope with such a disaster.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Friday that the extent of his grief and pain cannot be matched except by the anger that he feels towards everyone who was negligent during the flash floods.  

King Abdullah II also offered his condolences to Iraq’s leaders after it emerged that two female students of Iraqi nationality were amongst the victims of the flash floods that swept Jordan on Thursday.

Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said it appeared the school had broken regulations by going ahead with the trip which had been banned in the Dead Sea area because of bad weather.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II presided a National Policies Council meeting to discuss the repercussions of the disaster caused by flash floods that took place on Thursday.

An unknown number of people were still missing, hospital sources said.

Jordan’s ministry of health announced Friday that all patients who had been admitted to Shounah hospital with injuries following rain storms in the country have been released after receiving treatment.

The Jordanian ministry of tourism said that none of those missing after the flash floods in the country are foreign tourists.

A bridge on one of the cliffs of the Dead Sea had collapsed under the force of the rains, the first such after the end of the summer season.

Families of victims were searching the rugged area after search teams suspended operations overnight for a few hours, a witness said.

 

Many of those killed were children under 14. Families picnicking in the popular destination were also among the dead and injured.

Hundreds of families and relatives converged on Southern Shounah hospital on Thursday, a few kilometers from the resort area. Relatives sobbed and searched for details about the missing children. 

A doctor in the hospital emergency room said the “bodies kept on coming.” “Ambulances were coming and leaving, dropping dead people and dropping injured people of different ages. By 7 p.m., we had 10 bodies and 11 injured people,” he said.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa also called King Abdullah II on Friday in order to offer his condolences.

"The students were on a school trip and it appears that a mudslide along the road swept their bus away," the official added.
Israel's military said it was helping with the operation, sending helicopters as well as search and rescue soldiers.
"Currently assisting Jordan in rescuing a bus full of children swept away in a flood on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea," it wrote on Twitter.

PM Razzaz rushed to the scene, overseeing part of the rescue operation and visiting the wounded at an area hospital.
As the death toll continued to rise Thursday evening, Jordan's King Abdullah II announced that he canceled a visit to Bahrain, which had been scheduled for Friday.The Jordanian government will open an investigation and hold those responsible for the incident accountable, Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat said. “It is clear that there is a violation; the school that organized the trip did not abide by public safety regulations which stipulate that students must not swim and must be kept away from waterways,” she said.

The school, Victoria College in Amman, had approval for a trip to Al-Azraq, an eco-tourism destination in Jordan’s eastern desert, not to the Dead Sea, Ghunaimat said. 

The Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth, is surrounded by steep valley slopes that frequently witness flash floods and landslides.“Everyone who is proved to have committed a violation and did not do their part will be held to account.”

An angry crowd of students’ families and other relatives surrounded the school premises in Talaa Al Ali in Amman, demanding that the school be held accountable for the tragedy.

 


Normalcy restored in Egyptian Sinai city, but danger lurks

Updated 11 December 2018
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Normalcy restored in Egyptian Sinai city, but danger lurks

  • Authorities are building a wall around the city's airport after militants rocketed a helicopter used by the then defense and interior ministers
  • The pervasive security, and the great lengths to which the military went to protect the journalists, suggest danger may not be far away

EL-ARISH, Egypt: Mohammed Amer Shaaban stood over trays of fresh fish at his tiny store in the coastal Sinai Peninsula city of El-Arish, pointing to his right and left while recalling the tough days when Daesh militants operated with impunity.
"They killed a Christian who owns a knife shop there and an informant over there. They also killed one of my cousins," he said.
"We have enjoyed some stability and peace for the past six or seven months," added the 48-year-old father of five as some two dozen journalists descended on El-Arish's fish market as part of a rare, army-organized trip.
The trip was chiefly designed to show off signs of normalcy in El-Arish, northern Sinai's largest city, as evidence that the military's all-out offensive against militants launched nearly 10 months ago has succeeded.
But in the city and the surrounding deserts, the signs of war are difficult to miss, particularly the enormous security presence. The Associated Press was required to submit the photos and video accompanying this story to Egypt's military censor, which did not say two weeks after submission if or when the material would be released.
The carefully scripted trip included visits to an indoor arena packed with thousands of screaming schoolchildren, a new housing project, a school and a factory. No one is claiming the militants have been defeated, but there have been no major attacks for several months, save a recent ambush of buses carrying Christian pilgrims to a remote desert monastery south of Cairo that left seven dead.
The fight against militants in Sinai has gone on for years, but the insurgency gathered steam after the 2013 ouster by the military of a freely elected but divisive president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Authorities have since shut down almost all underground tunnels that they suspected militants used to smuggle fighters and weapons into Sinai from neighboring Gaza, ruled by the Islamist Hamas group since 2007.
They also razed to the ground much of the town of Rafah on the Gaza border in a bid to deny the militants a safe haven and stop its use as cover for tunnels. Elsewhere in northern Sinai, olive orchards have been bulldozed to deny the militants sanctuary.
A brutal militant attack on a Sinai mosque that killed more than 300 worshippers a year ago — the deadliest such attack in Egypt in living memory — prompted general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to order a major offensive.
The operation, with thousands of troops backed by tanks, jet-fighters and warships, got underway in February. Security forces almost completely sealed off northern Sinai, causing shortages of food and fuel. The siege was eased in May, allowing normalcy to gradually return to the mostly desert region, especially in El-Arish.
Barely a year ago, militants in El-Arish killed suspected informants in broad daylight, set up bogus checkpoints, shot Christians in their stores, snatched clerics and members of the security forces to later dump their bodies on the streets. Now traffic is heavy, families are out in public, stores are filled with goods, and school classes are packed with children.
The military is eager to tout the changes.
"Terrorism will be completely defeated in a matter of a few months," announced Mohammed Abdel-Fadeel Shoushah, a retired general who serves as the governor of northern Sinai. "Now we are focusing on development, which is the basis of security."
For now, though, El-Arish shows enduring signs of conflict.
A Pharaonic-style building across the road from the governor's heavily guarded office has almost every one of its windows shattered. Some streets are blocked by sand berms, while others are sealed off by concrete blocks. Unfinished buildings are everywhere in the city, parts of which look deserted. Many of the date palms in the city look like they have received little care for years.
Authorities are building a wall around the city's airport after militants last December rocketed a helicopter used by the then defense and interior ministers while parked on the tarmac. The ministers were unharmed, but one officer was killed in the attack.
Another wall with heavily fortified watch towers is being built on the southern reaches of the city to prevent militants from infiltrating through dense olive orchards.
The pervasive security, and the great lengths to which the military went to protect the journalists, suggest danger may not be far away. The reporters traveled in armored cars with gunners in full combat gear perched atop, and a signal-jamming vehicle tagged along as a precaution against roadside bombs. The top officials in the convoy were protected by heavily armed policemen in black fatigues and ski masks.
In late October, militants twice attacked workers employed by the company building the wall just south of El-Arish, killing at least six and wounding 16. Earlier in November, security forces killed 12 militants hiding in unused buildings in El-Arish.
"Stay put in the vehicle and don't come out and wander around," an armed plainclothes police officer sternly warned reporters during one stop. "It is not as safe as you might think," he said, pointing to the expanse of desert on one side of the road.
The magnitude of the counterterrorism task becomes apparent during the nearly 200-kilometer (125-mile) journey through the desert from the east bank of the Suez Canal to El-Arish.
All along the road are military positions. At some, tanks are buried in the sand for protection with only their turrets showing. Soldiers on watch towers in the middle of nowhere cut forlorn figures against a backdrop of desert. The checkpoints create long lines of vehicles. Helicopters occasionally hover above.
El-Arish resident Hassan Mahdi, a lawyer who came to Sinai from a Nile Delta province as a young boy nearly 30 years ago, said the restored security is a welcome change.
"To be honest, life was very, very difficult here," he said. "Businesses were relocating out of Sinai in search of security and many things were in short supply. Not anymore."