Saudi storm closes schools, cuts vital Makkah road, kills two

Riyadh: At least two people died Thursday when torrential rains struck western Saudi Arabia, including the coastal city of Jeddah, causing flights to be delayed and schools to close, according to officials.

The regional government of Makkah stated on its Twitter account, “Two deaths have been reported thus far, and we urge everyone to stay indoors unless absolutely essential.”

The Makkah region consists of Jeddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city with over four million inhabitants, and Makkah city, the holiest place in Islam, where millions of Muslims annually make the hajj and umrah pilgrimages.

The road connecting the two, which many pilgrims take to reach Makkah, was closed on Thursday when the rains began, state media reported, but it was restored later, according to authorities.

The state-affiliated Al-Ekhbariya channel broadcast images of worshippers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah circling the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building that serves as the center of Islam, during a severe downpour.

In Jeddah, photographs shared on social media depicted standing water causing traffic congestion and partially immersing several vehicles.

The city’s King Abdulaziz International Airport announced that “due to weather circumstances, certain flights have been delayed” and recommended customers contact airlines for the most up-to-date itineraries.

Before morning, the official Saudi Press Agency announced that the city’s schools would be temporarily closed due to the forecasted continuation of rain throughout the day.

Schools were also closed in adjacent Rabigh and Khulais “to ensure the protection of male and female students,” according to the SPA.

Although the country is amid final examinations, schools were already closed on Wednesday after King Salman declared a vacation following Saudi Arabia’s shocking World Cup victory against Argentina.

Residents of Jeddah have long lamented the city’s inadequate infrastructure, which has resulted in frequent winter storms and flooding.

In 2009, 123 people perished due to flooding in the city, and two years later, another 10 perished.