Streets flooded, power cut in Saudi city of Jeddah
JEDDAH (Reuters) - Torrential rainfall submerged streets and cut off electricity in parts of Saudi Arabia's second largest city Jeddah on Wednesday, raising fears of a repeat of floods in 2009 which killed more than 120 people.
The last floods triggered a rare public debate about weaknesses in infrastructure in the top oil exporter, one of the world's richest countries. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that has no elected parliament and tolerates no public protests.
On Wednesday, cars floated in streets turned again into rivers, while putrid odours filled the air as sewage from underground tanks overflowed and mixed with flood water in the Red Sea port of four million.
Residents have long complained of neglect as the city has no sewage system despite the fact the Gulf Arab state sits on more than $400 billion in foreign reserves thanks to years of high oil prices. Water waste is stored in tanks and collected later.
"We are flooded. It's bad. The whole first floor of my house is filled with water and one of my couches is floating in the living room," said one woman in Jeddah.
"Why weren't we warned about this? There are helicopters rescuing people and cars floating in the streets," she said.
Authorities urged residents to stay indoors but gave no immediate assessment of damages or any casualties. A spokesman for the civil defence did not return repeated calls for comment.
Until recently, Jeddah's waste water was dumped in an area in the middle of the desert which later developed into a large lake dubbed "Musk Lake" by locals for its odour.
Only when the lake, which was equivalent in size to 340 soccer fields, rose 12 metres (39 ft) high, King Abdullah ordered authorities to get rid of it. He also said after the last floods that officials would be held responsible.
Now municipality officials say the lake is empty and water waste is purified and used to water plants in the city but there is still no fucntioning sewage system in Jeddah, a major port.
"I really don't mind having my house flushed with water. I love rain," said another Jeddah resident. "But I hate sewage and this is what we are dealing with. I can't stay in my flooded house. This is all diseased water."
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)
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