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Saudi Arabians use Facebook to vent fury over Jeddah flood deaths

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The city's drainage system was overwhelmed this past Wednesday when a five-hour downpour dumped 3.7 inches of rain on the Red Sea port. Many people were drowned as their cars were swept away and Saudis have asked why police were not on the streets to warn drivers away from dangerously flooded areas.

In addition to the deaths, the floods displaced more than 1,200 families, destroyed an estimated 4,000 vehicles, and caused millions of dollars in property damage, according to local papers.

Surprised officials

The floods occurred on the first day of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that draws up to 2 million Muslims from around the world. The entire government, from King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz on down, was preoccupied with making sure that the pilgrimage went off without a hitch. It did, and early concerns about security disruptions and swine flu outbreaks did not occur, largely because officials had put in months of preparation prior to the hajj.

The unelected Saudi government does sometimes respond to public opinion, especially if it involves basic services. How it will react to the public clamor to uproot official mismanagement and corruption is another matter. In the past, such complaints have not led to any type of public punishment or prosecution.

King Abdullah has ordered monetary compensation and free medical care for displaced families, and the government will also compensate owners of damaged property. The National Guard has been ordered into some neighborhoods to maintain security and assist local civil defense authorities.

Provincial governor Prince Khalid bin Faisal has ordered "an immediate investigation into the drainage network" of Jeddah and a report on the municipality's plans for preventing future floods, the Saudi Gazette reported.

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