In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

Flash floods caused by heavy rain forced hundreds of tourists to seek higher ground in the kingdom’s ancient city of Petra. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2018

In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

  • Earlier this month, sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site
  • The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters

PETRA, Jordan: In ancient times, Arab tribesmen dug diversion tunnels to protect their low-lying trading post of Petra against desert flash floods. More than two millennia later, an alarm system warns visitors if flood water rushes toward what has become Jordan’s main tourist attraction.
Earlier this month, the alarms were activated for the first time, said Hussein Al-Hasanat of the Petra Development & Tourism Region Authority. Sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site carved into rose-hued rock face.
Hundreds of tourists were able to seek higher ground and were later evacuated, he said.
Amateur video posted online at the time showed visitors running through a steep, narrow canyon leading to the Treasury, Petra’s main draw, as guides urged them to hurry. Later, visitors were seen standing on a higher patch near the Treasury as knee-high water poured through the canyon.
Elsewhere in Jordan, such alarms are still missing. Thirty-four people were killed in flash floods in late September and early November.
The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters. In response, Jordan’s Department of Antiquities built a dam to keep water from entering the canyon leading to the Treasury.
In 2014, the alarm system was installed as added protection, with sirens set to go off when flood water rises above four meters (yards).
On Nov. 9, the system was triggered for the first time, through a computer in the Petra Authority’s control room. The computer is connected to eight rain forecast systems and two water detection stations placed in the area, within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of Petra.
The network generates instant data allowing officials to measure possible danger and warn people by the time the water reaches Petra.
Omar Dajani, a meteorologist at the Arabia Weather company, said alarms should be installed in all vulnerable areas in Jordan.
He said urban sprawl has exacerbated the flood risk, which is particularly high in dry areas.
“Now towns have spread so much and many of them were not built with respect for the geography of the region, such as valleys for example, where the water has naturally caused floods for millions of years,” Dajani said.


Massive explosions in Beirut kill and wound many, cause extensive damage

Updated 3 min 19 sec ago

Massive explosions in Beirut kill and wound many, cause extensive damage

  • Hundreds of casualties with many trapped in their homes
  • Cause of blasts, which was felt in Cyprus, unknown

BEIRUT: Two massive explosions in Beirut killed at least 10 people, wounded hundreds and caused extensive damage across the Lebanese capital.

The blasts took place at the city’s port area and were so large the explosions were felt in Cyprus 200 kilometers away. 

Even in a city with a history of conflict, the scale of the explosions was unprecedented.

Videos showed an initial blast and fire, followed by a massive explosion and shockwave spreading through the city’s buildings.

People could be heard screaming and running for cover in restaurants and from balconies. 

Buildings across the city were damaged, with windows blown out and ceilings collapsed.

Lebanon’s health minister Hamad Hasan said the explosion caused a “very high number of injuries.”

Lebanese Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh said there had been hundreds of casualties, including dead, wounded. He said many people remained trapped in their homes.

The cause of the blast remains unknown. An Israeli official told Reuters that the country had nothing to do with the blasts.

Lebanon's internal security chief Abbas Ibrahim said the explosions took place in a section of the port housing highly-explosive materials.

He declined to speculate about the cause of the explosion in Lebanon's capital, saying “we cannot preempt investigations.”

Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared a day of mourning for Wednesday.

*With agencies