Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Saudi Arabia orders inquiry into flash flood deaths

Saudi men inspect flood damage
Many of the victims died in their vehicles

Saudi Arabia has ordered an inquiry into flash floods last week that killed more than 100 people, according to the state news agency.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said that the family of each of the victims would receive 1m riyals (US $267,000; £160,000), the agency reported.

There was public outrage over the authorities' response to the floods and even a threat of legal action.

The majority of the deaths were in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

There were also fatalities reported in Rabigh and Mecca.

'Dealt with firmly'

Many of the victims died in their vehicles after the floods - either by drowning or in car crashes. Some were reportedly killed when bridges collapsed.

The inquiry will be headed by Prince Khalid bin Faisal who is the governor of the Mecca region that includes Jeddah.

Saudi Mecca map

He will assess personal and property losses and try to establish if anyone was responsible for the deaths, the agency said.

"We cannot overlook the errors and omissions that must be dealt with firmly," King Abdullah said.

The flash floods hit while authorities were hosting over two million Hajj pilgrims in Mecca, 80km (50 miles) east of Jeddah.

There has been unprecedented criticism of the government on internet forums and on the social networking site Facebook in the aftermath of the floods. Some accused officials of negligence and a slow response when Jeddah's infrastructure was overwhelmed.

Public protests are banned in Saudi Arabia.

A human rights lawyer, Walid Abu al-Kheir, said he was preparing a lawsuit against the Jeddah government on behalf of the victims.

"They didn't make the drainage work. They have told us for three years or more that it has been completed," he told AFP news agency.

Houses, cars and roads were overwhelmed by what witnesses called a "wall of water" and unofficial estimates put the cost of the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The heavy rain hampered the start of the Hajj pilgrimage but officials said there were no pilgrims among the casualties.

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