UAE floods one week on: Some residents, business owners struggle to rebuild lives

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When the water gushed into her home the day the UAE received its heaviest rainfall in 75-years, for Mirdif resident Adriana Pagliero, it was a “living nightmare.”

In videos shared with Al Arabiya English, the 57-year-old business owner showed water gushing in from the doors and through the ceilings, until those structures caved in, letting a torrent of floodwater sweeping through her home. Her furniture and valuable art collections were left floating in the floodwater.

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Mirdif resident Adriana Pagliero experienced devastating damage to her Dubai home in the April floods. (Supplied)
Mirdif resident Adriana Pagliero experienced devastating damage to her Dubai home in the April floods. (Supplied)

The mother-of-one, who also has six rescue cats and a Husky, said one week on, she estimated the damage to her belongings to the tune of Dh1 million.

Many families across the emirate have seen their belongings destroyed, while some have been forced to evacuate their homes after the highest-ever recorded rainfall in more than 75 years brought the country to a standstill on April 16.

Pagliero, the owner of Adrianna’s bakery, is currently living in a hotel with her 18-year-old daughter. Her husband remains at the villa, picking through the ruins of their belongings.

“We are still shaking,” she told Al Arabiya English. “We are traumatized. At the time (of the rain), we tried to contain the water, then everything came suddenly,” she said.

“We thought the villa would collapse any time. Then the window broke, and the water came in very suddenly. The villa is not safe. We thought we would be electrocuted.”

Pagliero continued: “And for my daughter, this really happened at the worst time as her university exams are on. Her mind is occupied with all this. It’s too much; it’s a heavy weight to bear.”

She further said: “We are an Italian-Canadian family with a lot of collectibles and pieces of art. All of our books, pictures, and history, and all of our memories are lost. More than 200 years of history is lost. Books from my grandfather, paintings, pieces of art – all gone.”

Water exploding through a door

“But we have six rescue cats – including one mum and two kittens – so we were only focused on saving them. We did not think about taking any of our valuables, our documents, or my diploma from the university.”

Sharing further details of her ordeal, Pagliero said: “By the time we got the cats, the water was reaching the (power) outlets, so I told my husband we had to cut out the electricity. We are both engineers, so we have a sense of safety.

Then we heard an explosion – like a bomb. The pressure of the water was so high that it exploded through a door in the basement.”

“We couldn’t save anything except our lives.”

Pagliero praised the Dubai government and a representative from the country’s Islamic Affairs, whom she termed as an “amazing person.” He came to assess the damage after she called the authorities for help.

“They came. They walked through the house with us. They wanted to know what we needed. They are trying to put the house right so we can live there again. But it’s a disaster. A week later, we still feel hopeless. We lost everything. But the government is doing its best.”

The unprecedented storm caused widespread flooding, submerged streets, felled trees, shuttered schools, saw flights diverted from the world’s busiest airport, DXB, and disrupted daily life across the country.

People look out at floodwater covering a major road in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP)
People look out at floodwater covering a major road in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP)

Grace Karim and Somia Anway are the co-owners of Bookends, which sells preloved books across the UAE. They told Al Arabiya English their business was struggling to recover from the floods.

Karim said: “The relentless rain mercilessly assaulted Bookends, a cherished bookstore nestled in the lower ground of Dubai Digital Park located at Dubai Silicon Oasis. With nearly 50,000 books as its treasure trove, the floodwaters invaded, submerging us for three long days before gradually receding. After the arduous task of pumping out the water, the daunting cleanup commenced.”

“Monday marked a sorrowful farewell to at least 10,000 books, irreparably damaged by the flood water, unfit even for artistic repurposing. The apprehension lingers over our additional storage, housing around 20,000 more books, still untouched from the cleanup.”

‘Staggering repair costs’

“The aftermath left most of our wooden bookshelves beyond salvaging, necessitating their disposal, while our shop fittings cry out for renewal. The battle against the persistent dampness and intermittent seepage continues to challenge us.”

Karim added: “Amidst this turmoil, our focus remains on resurrecting our website to regain lost revenue and offset the staggering repair costs and ongoing expenses. Though our hearts ache, the outpouring of love and support from the community for Bookends has been nothing short of remarkable.”

“In these trying times, the community’s embrace has been our solace. The generosity of volunteers rallying to aid our recovery has been a beacon of hope. While we’re not yet ready to resume operations, we seek further assistance in replenishing our lost inventory and exploring available grants for small business rehabilitation.”

Metro limping back to normality

A week later, most of the waterlogged roads across the country were cleared, although some disruption continued to be reported across residential communities.

However, transport authorities issued a request on Tuesday, asking the public to consider reducing their reliance on Dubai Metro during peak hours. This comes in response to significant service disruptions to the network caused by last week’s extraordinary storms.

The Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai conveyed this message through its mobile app, as restoration efforts persist to address the impact of the adverse weather on Metro routes.

Several stations along the Green and Red Lines of the extensive citywide network were rendered inoperative due to unprecedented flooding.

Unprecedented April storms in GCC

Cars drive through flood water caused by heavy rains, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Reuters)
Cars drive through flood water caused by heavy rains, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Reuters)

Aside from the deadly floods in the UAE – which claimed the lives of three Filipinos and an Emirati – torrential rains and strong winds have also battered neighboring Bahrain and Oman, where at least 18 people were killed in flooding earlier this month.

This week also saw weather warnings in Saudi Arabia, when the Kingdom’s General Directorate of Civil Defense issued safety instructions as the country was told to brace for heavy rainfall.

Earlier this month, experts told Al Arabiya English that, as climate change warms the oceans, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries are set to experience bigger and more frequent rainstorms, while a surging number of cloud-seeding programs will enhance rainfall and boost freshwater reserves in the region.

According to the director of the climate and water program at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC, Mohammed Mahmoud, the reason is simple. Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Mahmoud said: “Warmer weather leads to warmer oceans. Much of this is linked to climate change, warming the atmosphere and oceans, especially waters closer to the equator, such as the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.

Warmer waters are good breeding grounds for storms and extreme weather like the cyclones hitting Africa.”
Further explaining the phenomenon, he said: “This creates more stormy weather and rainfall, especially towards the end of summer as we move into fall. We’ve seen this extreme weather in Oman and the UAE, with heavy rain and storms.”

“Most storms and rainfall in Saudi Arabia have occurred along the Red Sea coast. Even though Saudi Arabia is somewhat removed from the direct effects, rainfall patterns are changing here, too, and we’ve been seeing rain in unexpected areas and times recently.

Read more:

UAE floods: Dubai developers offer free repairs, vow action after record rainfall

UAE floods: Homes damaged, power outages, commuter chaos amid record rainfall

Saudi Arabia, GCC to see more rainfall due to warmer weather, cloud seeding: Experts

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