US embassy cable - 09JEDDAH457

FLOODING UPDATE: THE TOLL RISES IN "JEDDAH'S KATRINA" (CORRECTED COPY)

Identifier: 09JEDDAH457
Wikileaks: View 09JEDDAH457 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Jeddah
Created: 2009-11-27 13:53:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: AEMR ASEC CASC ECON KPAO PGOV SA SCUL SENV
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO2034
OO RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR RUEHROV
DE RUEHJI #0457/01 3311353
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 271353Z NOV 09 ZDS
FM AMCONSUL JEDDAH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1625
INFO RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH IMMEDIATE 8606
RUEHDH/AMCONSUL DHAHRAN IMMEDIATE 0177
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA PRIORITY
RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 JEDDAH 000457 
 
C O R R E C T E D  C O P Y 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ARP, NEA/PPD, 
SE/S-0,CA/OCS/ACS-NESA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/27/2019 
TAGS: AEMR, ASEC, CASC, ECON, KPAO, PGOV, SA, SCUL, SENV 
SUBJECT: FLOODING UPDATE: THE TOLL RISES IN "JEDDAH'S 
KATRINA" (CORRECTED COPY) 
 
REF: A. JEDDAH 0456 
     B. RIYADH 1278 
     C. JEDDAH 0342 
 
JEDDAH 00000457  001.4 OF 002 
 
 
Classified By: Consul General Martin R. Quinn for reasons 1.4 (b) and ( 
d) 
 
 1.(C) SUMMARY: Reports continue of a mounting toll in terms 
of loss of life and property damage as a result of 
Wednesday's heavy rains and flash flooding in the Jeddah 
region (ref A).  Saudi media highlight the flood devastation 
in front page stories.  The public announcement that 83 
persons are known to have died is accompanied by the 
expectation, confirmed by Governor of the Mecca Region Prince 
Khalid Al Faisal, that the toll may rise.  There is suspicion 
that the casualty numbers are being deliberately understated 
to avoid alarming the population, with rumors suggesting the 
final death toll may reach into the hundreds.  Around 
midnight yesterday the Consulate learned of the death of an 
American child in Wednesday's flood, and -- with weather 
reports being SMSed around Jeddah describing a 20-30% chance 
of further rain -- issued a warden message advising caution 
in the event of renewed rain and flash floods. There are also 
signs that the political "blame game" has begun, amid 
speculation that the Jeddah mayor and other municipal 
officials could be sacked. One Saudi businessman described 
the flood as "Jeddah's Katrina."  END SUMMARY. 
 
 
Hajj and flood stories double-billed 
------------------------------------ 
 
as SAG authorities respond 
-------------------------- 
 
 
2. (SBU) Arabic and English media continue to highlight the 
flood devastation with graphic photos of piles of wrecked 
vehicles on the front pages of several papers today as well 
as pictures of residents of south/east Jeddah amid the rubble 
and debris of inundated homes and overturned cars. While the 
current official death toll is 83, the number is expected to 
rise. Accounts of the flood damage and complaints about 
Jeddah's poor drainage system share media space with the more 
positive and conventional Hajj and Eid al-Adha stories. 
Business losses are estimated at SAR 1 billion, with at least 
3,000 vehicles reported submerged or damaged. Saudi 
officials, including the Governor of Mecca Region, Prince 
Khaled Al Faisal, and the Governor of Jeddah, Prince Mishal 
bin Majed, were reported to have inspected the affected areas 
of Jeddah yesterday.  Civil Defense authorities have 
established offices to dispense aid to flood victims. 
According to Al Arabiya TV, King Abdullah has issued orders 
for residents of south and east Jeddah displaced by the flood 
-- a mixture mainly of foreign workers and poorer Saudis -- 
to be placed on public assistance. 
 
 
American child fatality 
----------------------- 
 
 
3. (SBU) Around midnight yesterday post learned of the death 
of an American three-year-old child which occurred on 
Wednesday as the family was driving to Jizan on Eid holiday. 
Their car was engulfed by fast-moving water as they drove 
past the King Abdulaziz University in south Jeddah; in the 
effort to exit the vehicle the child was swept away. More 
than twenty-four hours later, following a search of area 
hospitals, the bereaved father finally located the child's 
body at the university hospital.  He told our consular chief 
that he had seen "hundreds" of bodies, many of them children, 
at Jeddah hospital morques. 
 
 
Anger at Jeddah municipality 
---------------------------- 
 
 
4. (C) At a Thanksgiving dinner last evening, prominent 
Jeddah attorney Kareem Nazir (strictly protect), son of 
 
JEDDAH 00000457  002.4 OF 002 
 
 
retired, long-serving Saudi ambassador to Argentina, 
inveighed against the "incompetence" of officials surrounding 
Jeddah Mayor (Engineer) Adel Faqih who had failed to assure 
that the city had an adequate drainage system.  He displayed 
photo after photo on his mobile phone of the flooded streets 
and underpasses of Jeddah and predicted the Mayor's own head 
would roll in a matter of weeks. "Personally I like the 
mayor," Nazir said, "but he is surrounded by incompetents. 
Mark my words that heads will roll over this."  Nazir 
described his driver's narrow escape from death when his car 
was caught in turbulent floodwaters in an underpass where 
there was no storm drain; the driver broke a window to escape 
and swam to safety.  Occupants of a small bus nearby were not 
so fortunate and are believed to have drowned.  One 
U.S.-educated Saudi businessman, Walid Banawi (strictly 
protect), decried the chronic drainage problems in this 
cosmopolitan city of 3.5 million, calling the recent flood 
"Jeddah's Katrina." 
 
 
Leaks at KAUST -- the final straw? 
---------------------------------- 
 
 
5. (SBU)  Flooding at the King Abdullah University of Science 
and Technology (KAUST), 45 minutes north of Jeddah, mirrored 
the situation in the city. The newly-constructed student 
apartments at KAUST experienced leaks and the same drainage 
issues, puddles turning into lakes and roofs collapsing, as 
elsewhere in the region. The hotel where female students live 
was evacuated although many students were making the Hajj 
pilgrimage or were out of the country on holiday. The tape 
drives for Shaheen, the KAUST supercomputer, were reportedly 
damaged by the rains, although the computer itself survived. 
Several American students broadcast on their blogs that this 
could be the "final straw" for some students who had 
contemplated leaving after just one semester.  One student 
estimated that the number of students departing after the 
inaugural semester could be as high as 100, or 25 percent of 
the current student body at KAUST, and one third of the 
non-Saudis.  Post believes the figure is probably an 
exaggeration since most students are committed for two years 
and there has been much discussion that with the weakness of 
the U.S. economy, finding jobs back home would be difficult 
now (refs B and C). 
 
 
Cloudy skies, but so far 
------------------------ 
 
no more rain in Jeddah 
---------------------- 
 
 
6. (SBU) COMMENT: Skies are mainly overcast, though with 
patches of blue, but residents of the affected areas of 
Jeddah are said to be anxious about the weather.  So far 
there is no rain here on this the second day after what is 
being dubbed "The Wednesday Flood" and the first day of Eid 
al-Adha.  Hajj rituals in Mecca continue smoothly and 
uninterrupted, amid occasional light rain showers. With the 
singular exception of the tragic drowning of the American 
child on Wednesday, no other flood-related problems have been 
reported among American citizens, residents or pilgrims, in 
the Kingdom's Western Region. Post transmitted by local 
telegram today a condolence message from Ambassador Smith to 
King Abdullah. END COMMENT. 
 
 
QUINN 

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