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First heavy rainfall of the season, deadly flash floods hit Jordan’s Zarqa-Maeen Valley

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At least 21 people were killed, 35 injured and an unknown number of others are missing after an intense storm brought strong winds, heavy rain and hail to most of Jordan this week. Flash flood in Zarqa-Maeen Valley, whose water channels into the Dead Sea, had surged for up to 5 km (3.1 miles). This is Jordan's first heavy rainfall of the 2018/19 rainy season (November – March). The death toll is expected to rise.

According to official news agency Petra, a bus with 39 students and 7 adults traveling back from the Zarqa-Maeen hot springs was swept away into a valley when heavy rains unleashed major flash floods on Thursday, October 25, 2018. At least 18 of them died, along with at least 3 others who were picnicking at the popular tourist spot.

Authorities launched a huge search and rescue operations with helicopters, army troops, and reportedly rescued 35 people by Friday afternoon.

"Though the final cause of death was drowning, all of the victims however suffered from broken bones and other injuries because they were hit by huge boulders as they were being swept away by the flash flood," he told Al Jazeera.

According to the Civil Defence Department (CDD), the number of missing people remains unknown due to the presence of not only students on a school trip but also an unidentified number of families on the popular tourist site that lies at the bottom of the valleys overlooking the Dead Sea.

Meanwhile, a bridge that leads to the site where the search and rescue operation is underway collapsed, Friday morning, The Jordan Times reports.

CDD said the collapse did not affect the search and rescue efforts because 'our machinery was already stationed at the site since Thursday afternoon and the collapsed bridge is far away from the site where we are operating.'

Local media say it's strange to have such a school trip at this time of the year, and especially since warnings were issued several days ahead. 

The Jordan Meteorological Department (JMD) announced on Monday, October 21 that a depression centered over Cyprus and a relatively cold air mass were expected to affect the country as of Thursday, October 25.

Almost all of the country witnessed heavy rain and flash floods were formed in many parts, including Amman, a state official told The Jordan Times.

Streets were inundated causing suffocating traffic jam across the capital’s streets, while the hailstorm produced large hailstones that smashed the windows of some cars in Ajloun, according to JMD’s Facebook page.

"Strong gusty winds, whose speed reached 100 km/h (62 mph) in Ruweished in the eastern desert and 70 km/h (43 mph) in other parts, reduced road visibility in the south and east of the country, prompting many motorists to park their cars on the side of the road, while the Public Security Department (PSD) stopped traffic on the Zarqa-Maeen – Dead Sea road and urged motorists to drive with maximum alertness on the desert highway due to heavy dust."

The PSD said on Thursday that 15 people were injured in a pileup accident on the desert highway, while the CDD press office reported that one man died in Maan in a separate traffic accident.

Featured image: Search and rescue operation in Jordan on October 25, 2018

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