The death toll from flash floods near Jordan’s shore of the Dead Sea rose to 20 on Friday, in what Civil Defense officials said was one of the deadliest incidents in the kingdom involving schoolchildren.
The search for survivors continued after daybreak, with helicopters and teams with sniffer dogs scouring the rocky slopes near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.
The body of a 12-year-old girl was found early on Friday and several more people were still feared missing, said the director-general of the Civil Defence, Mustafa al-Basaiah.
Thirteen of the dead and 26 of about three dozen people wounded in Thursday’s flash floods were middle school children, officials said.
The incident began early on Thursday afternoon when 37 students from an Amman private school, along with seven adult chaperones, as well as other visitors were taking a break at hot springs several kilometres from the Dead Sea shores. Sudden heavy rains sent flash floods surging toward them from higher ground, sweeping them away, some as far as the Dead Sea, officials said.
A complex rescue operation involving helicopters, divers, sniffer dogs and hundreds of searchers continued into the night on Thursday and resumed on Friday. Israel’s military said it also despatched a rescue team at the request of the Jordanian government.
Brig. Gen. Farid al-Sharaa, a Civil Defence spokesperson, said on Friday that the flooding was one of the deadliest incidents in recent memory involving schoolchildren.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II canceled a planned working visit to Bahrain, initially scheduled for Friday. He was to have been the keynote speaker at a security conference.
The king ordered the Jordanian flag at the palace's main entrance to fly at half-staff for three days in mourning for the victims of the flood.
The UN secretary general and several regional leaders sent condolences.
The low-lying Dead Sea area is prone to flash flooding when rain water rushes down from adjacent hills. In April, 10 Israeli students were killed in a flash flood while on a hiking trip near the Dead Sea.