Saudi city in shock over manhole deaths

The boy fell in front of his parents’ eyes and his father jumped into the manhole to save him

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Saudi officials and members of the public have expressed extreme shock and horror at deaths of a father and his son who fell inside an uncovered manhole outside a commercial center on Jeddah’s upmarket Tahliah Street on Thursday.

Makkah Emir Prince Mishal Bin Abdullah has ordered the authorities to open an investigation into the accident.

The authorities will send Prince Mishal a detailed report about the circumstances that led to the horrific accident so that proper punishment is determined.

In a phone call, Prince Mishal expressed his heartfelt condolences to Amer Mansho who lost his brother Ali Mansho and his five-year-old son in the accident.

The committee formed specifically for the investigation has members from the Makkah Emir’s office, Jeddah Municipality, police and Civil Defense.

In a statement following the accident, Makkah Region Civil Defense spokesman Col. Saeed Sarhan said a five-year-old boy, who was walking with his parents near a commercial center, stumbled and fell into a 90-cm-diameter manhole that was two to three meters deep.

The boy fell in front of his parents’ eyes and his father jumped into the manhole to save him while the mother was screaming for help, the statement said.

While passersby tried to pacify the woman, a police officer who happened to be near the scene stepped down the manhole in an attempt to save the boy, risking his own life.

The officer was able to pull the father up who was holding his son’s hand. However, the boy’s hands slipped because of the sludge and he fell back, according to the statement.

A citizen also jumped down the manhole trying in vain to save the boy before rescuers arrived at the scene around 1:53 a.m. The rescuers pulled out the father and the officer and rushed them to hospital.

They kept searching for the boy and when they finally found him, he was immediately taken to hospital, the statement added, noting that the father and son died while the officer was injured.

The Civil Defense spokesman said large quantities of used cooking oil and leftovers were inside the manhole and this formed sewage sludge, making it difficult for rescuers to pull up the father and his son before it was too late.

Anyone who falls into a manhole could die within three minutes after inhaling toxic fumes, he said, adding that the manhole was closed and cement blocks were put around it.

Makkah Municipality spokesman Muhammad Al-Buqami said in a statement that the boy fell into a manhole of a privately-owned business center that does not fall under the supervision of the municipality. The statement placed the blame for the accident on the owner.

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) issued a statement calling for bringing the one responsible for the accident before the court to receive proper punishment. The NSHR will follow up with the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs to monitor the mechanisms the ministry uses to prevent such accidents that take place due to negligence.

Dr. Abdulmalik Al-Junaidi, chairman of the Municipal Council, said it was against the law to throw oil and leftovers inside the drainage and restaurants that did so should be fined.

Jeddah Municipality requires restaurants to dispose of paper and food trash properly and never throw them inside drainage networks. “Some workers steal the covers of manholes and sell them to recycling plants in south Jeddah. We have many times asked the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs to fine those factories,” Al-Junaidi said.

Ali Ashiqi, an environmental expert, suggested that restaurants should have trash bins for the leftovers and barrels for used cooking oil.

Family sources said the father was preparing a surprise for his wife and two little children. He was going to take them to a restaurant to have dinner together. The father was survived by his wife and his little daughter Lujain.

The deceased’s brother, Amer, said, “My brother was 30 years old and worked for the Saudi Arabian Airlines. He had recently returned from the US after obtaining a master’s degree in software engineering. We are sure the authorities will find the culprit and bring him before the court.”

He added that his brother’s wife has not eaten or drunk anything since the deaths of her husband and son. His mother is going through a difficult time because of the sudden loss of her son, he said.

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