GAZA CITY: Dozens of homes and farms south of Gaza City were inundated by flood waters as heavy rains drenched parts of the Middle East, Palestinian officials and witnesses said on Tuesday.
The rising waters destroyed more than 100 homes in Wadi Gaza, a low-lying farming area south of Gaza City mostly inhabited by Bedouins, as the Islamist Hamas-run government worked to evacuate residents, they said.
“The flood sounded like an airplane,” said Murazaq al-Rash, 38, who clung to his door to stay afloat after his house and his family’s 85 goats were swept away. “The whole area was flooded and it surrounded us.” He and several family members were later rescued by neighbours in a small fishing boat before being brought to a nearby hospital in a donkey cart.
The mayor of the area, Faiz Jarrada, said it was the most powerful flash flood in at least 27 years. “If the guys had not been here with fishing boats dozens of people would have died,” he said.
The flooding cut off roads linking Gaza City to the south of the impoverished territory for several hours, and a highway bridge was washed away as waters rose to three metres (more than nine feet) in places.
At least 12 people were injured in the flooding, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services.
Mohammed al-Agha, agriculture minister in the Hamas-run government in Gaza, warned of a ‘humanitarian disaster.’ “The flooding of Wadi Gaza endangers the lives of citizens because there are built-up homes, farmlands and livestock pens that are completely flooded,”he said.
Yussef al-Mansi, the housing and public works minister, said the government had declared a state of emergency in the area.
The infrastructure of the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people has been strained by Israeli border closures tightened after Hamas seized power in 2007 that prevent the import of most construction materials and spare parts.
Entire communities in Gaza remain in ruins from the massive Israeli offensive launched on the territory a little over a year ago, and many of the flood victims feared they too would be unable to rebuild.
“The chickens were washed away, and the flour and our beds,” said Salma Ahmed, 45, one of more than 200 people who gathered at a nearby school.
“We have nothing left. Are we going to become like the people whose houses were destroyed in the war?”
In Israel, two people were killed after their jeep was swept away by flash floods in the southern Negev desert on Monday. An Israeli army rescue team recovered one of the bodies on Tuesday, the military said.
The deluge came as the Jewish state, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean experienced unusually heavy winter storms.
In neighbouring Egypt at least seven people died in flash floods and heavy rains on Monday, with the bad weather battering namely the Sinai peninsula and the south of the country, officials there said. –AFP