FLASH warn­ing

Whangarei Report - - TRAVEL -

In an­cient times, Arab tribes­men dug di­ver­sion tun­nels to pro­tect their low-ly­ing trad­ing post of Pe­tra against desert flash floods.

More than two mil­len­nia later, an alarm sys­tem warns vis­i­tors if flood wa­ter rushes to­ward what has be­come Jor­dan’s main tourist at­trac­tion.

The alarms have just been ac­ti­vated for the first time, says Hus­sein al-hasanat of the Pe­tra Devel­op­ment & Tourism Re­gion Author­ity.

Sirens blared min­utes be­fore a tor­rent fed by heavy rains ap­proached the Unesco World Her­itage site carved into rose-hued rock face.

Hun­dreds of tourists were able to seek higher ground and were later evac­u­ated, he says.

Am­a­teur video posted on­line at the time showed vis­i­tors run­ning through a steep, nar­row canyon lead­ing to the Trea­sury, Pe­tra’s main draw, as guides urged them to hurry. Later, vis­i­tors were seen stand­ing on a higher patch near the Trea­sury as knee-high wa­ter poured through the canyon.

Else­where in Jor­dan, such alarms are still miss­ing. Thirty-four peo­ple were killed in flash floods in late Septem­ber and early Novem­ber.

The last fa­tal flash flood struck Pe­tra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a lo­cal guide were killed by rapidly ris­ing wa­ters. In re­sponse, Jor­dan’s Depart­ment of An­tiq­ui­ties built a dam to keep wa­ter from en­ter­ing the canyon lead­ing to the Trea­sury.

In 2014, the alarm sys­tem was in­stalled as added pro­tec­tion, with sirens set to go off when flood wa­ter rises above a cer­tain level.

On Novem­ber 9, the sys­tem was trig­gered for the first time, through a com­puter in the Pe­tra Author­ity’s con­trol room. The com­puter is con­nected to eight rain forecast sys­tems and two wa­ter de­tec­tion sta­tions placed in the area, within 8 kilo­me­tres of Pe­tra.

The net­work gen­er­ates in­stant data al­low­ing of­fi­cials to mea­sure pos­si­ble dan­ger and warn peo­ple by the time the wa­ter reaches Pe­tra.

Omar Da­jani, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist at the Ara­bia Weather com­pany, says alarms should be in­stalled in all vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas in Jor­dan.

He said ur­ban sprawl has ex­ac­er­bated the flood risk, which is par­tic­u­larly high in dry ar­eas.

“Now towns have spread so much and many of them were not built with re­spect for the ge­og­ra­phy of the re­gion, such as val­leys for ex­am­ple, where the wa­ter has nat­u­rally caused floods for mil­lions of years,” Da­jani says.

In an­cient Pe­tra, sirens warn tourists of flash floods, a lethal prob­lem in Jor­dan Now towns have spread so much and many of them were not built with re­spect for the ge­og­ra­phy of the re­gion.

Photo / AP

Tourists brave a rare rain­storm in plas­tic pon­chos to hike deeper into Jor­dan’s fa­mous Pe­tra ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park.

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