'No way out': How failing to heed UAE rain alert left me stranded in a valley for 6 hours

KT staffer recounts harrowing experience this January, when he and his friends found themselves stuck in a wadi steadily filling with water during rains

by

SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Fri 19 May 2023, 5:25 PM

Last updated: Sat 20 May 2023, 2:07 PM

Early this year, in the first week of January, I took what I thought would be a peaceful, bright, and sunny day trip to Wadi Dafta. Little did my six friends and I realise that it would turn into a terrifying ordeal.

Although the forecast for the day did signal rain, we did not pay much heed to it and decided to go ahead with our camping plan. It was the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, and we had wanted to undertake this trip for a long time.


The day started off wonderfully. We set up camp, enjoyed the serene surroundings, and cooked a delightful lunch. The water level at the wadi was very shallow at the point where we were, which was enough for us to wash our vegetables and meat. After a filling lunch at around 2pm, some of us took a quick nap while two set out to explore the wadi. They got fresh fruits and came back, and we all played cards.

However, at around 4pm, the weather took a drastic turn. My brother exclaimed that it was turning dark, after he noticed ominous clouds gathering swiftly. We quickly offered our prayers and started to pack our essentials, by which time it had already started to drizzle.


“We have to first drive the vehicle to a safer place,” said my brother, as the gorge was right next to our campsite. Luckily, one of my friends had off-road driving experience and skilfully drove our four-wheel-drive vehicle through the terrain, trying to reach higher ground and escape the rising waters. Although we initially felt relieved when he successfully moved the vehicle to a safer area, our relief did not last long.

The rain was relentless, and within minutes, the wadi began to fill with water. We panicked as we started to realise the severity of the situation. Fahim, who drove the car to the higher ground, was safe, but the six of us of remaining were stranded in the wadi. “We have no way out,” said my brother.

Thankfully, the caretakers of a local farm helped us escape the wadi and gave us shelter at their accommodation for nearly 6 hours until it was safe for us to cross the water-logged wadi.

“We have to wait here until the water level goes down,” said another friend, Emaad.

We tried to remain positive, reassuring each other the water levels would subside and that we would eventually reach higher ground and meet Fahim, who had lost his phone in the panic. The fact that we could not establish communication with him frightened us more. However, he himself was calm and waited for us on the other side of the valley.

Finally, once the water subsided after over six hours, we could cross the valley and reach the vehicle.

“I knew you guys would make it. I was praying all the while,” said Fahim, as we reached at around midnight after our escape. We were immensely thankful to the caretakers of the farm, who not only saved our lives but offered us food and kept our spirits alive as well.

New rules

The Ministry of Interior recently announced new rules prohibiting people from gathering near or entering flooded valleys or dams during rains and foul weather. Doing so now comes with fines of up to Dh2,000, 23 black points, and confiscation of your vehicle for two months. Many people drive into valleys without realising how quickly water levels can rise and their vehicles can get caught in the strong currents.

I appreciate the Ministry's initiative and genuine concern for people's lives. While our original intention was not to chase the rain or camp near flooded valleys, we did end up stuck in a terrifying situation.

This experience taught us a valuable lesson about the power and unpredictability of nature. We realised the importance of preparedness and caution when undertaking an outdoor activity, especially in remote areas. That day we promised each other that we would follow the weather forecast religiously on every outdoor trip.

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