Jordan searches for survivors of deadly flash floods
AMMAN - At least 20 people, most of them schoolchildren, were killed in flash floods in Jordan, the emergency services said Friday, in what a government newspaper dubbed a "Tragedy at the Dead Sea".
Another 35 people were injured following heavy rains on Thursday, including members of the security forces involved in rescue operations, a civil defence official said, updating earlier tolls.
A security source said rescuers were still searching for eight people missing in the Dead Sea area, a popular tourist attraction around 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Amman.
"Most of the dead were schoolchildren aged 11 to 14 taking part in a school trip to the Dead Sea region" when their bus was swept away by the floodwaters, he said.
The floodwaters had carried away schoolchildren into the sea after they had descended from the bus.
Also among the dead were passers-by who had been picnicking in the area, the civil defence said, adding that a nearby bridge had collapsed.
Jordanian television reported that King Abdullah II had cancelled a planned visit to Bahrain to monitor developments.
"My sadness and sorrow are matched only by my anger at anyone who did not take the steps that could have prevented this painful incident," the king wrote on Twitter.
Government newspaper Al-Rai carried the headline "Tragedy at the Dead Sea" on its front page, while the private Al-Ghad daily said it was a "Black Day".
A medical source said three Iraqi pupils were among the dead.
Private television station Roya showed an Iraqi man crying and saying: "My wife died a month ago and today my son died."
The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, is surrounded by steep valleys and gullies that frequently see flash floods and landslides in autumn and winter.
Education Minister Azmi Mahafzah promised a "full inquiry" into the school children's deaths.
He said the bus had taken a route not agreed upon by the ministry and that the organiser of the trip bore full responsibility.
An official at Jordan's education ministry said the school had received permission around a week ago to visit Al-Azraq, the site of a nature reserve east of Amman.
Social media users said several parents had at the last minute refused to let their children join the trip, after Jordan's meteorological office warned of severe weather conditions and possible mudslides.
Roads leading to the area were closed on Friday morning "to allow search and rescue operations", the Directorate of General Security said.
Jordanian television showed scenes from the rescue operation, with dozens of security personnel and local residents searching near the shore of the Dead Sea, with boats also deployed in its waters which had turned brown from mud.
Neighbouring Israel's military said that at the request of the Jordanian government, it had sent helicopters and forces specialised in search and rescue to assist in the operation.