RUQAYA AL KINDI
Imagine waking up one morning with all your prized possession gone — your car, your home, your children and the peaceful neighbourhood you are so familiar with is in total disarray. Imagine waking up to a scene of chaos, that instead of the comfortable home and farms that took you years to build had been levelled to nothing more but “mud” and debris.
When the tropical cyclone “Shaheen” landed in Al Batinah, between the wilayats of Al Musannah and Al Suwaiq, this was what the inhabitants agonisingly experienced.
Accompanied by very intensive rain and strong winds, the cyclone caused heavy rains and floods. It was so remarkable that Suwaiq was reported globally as the number one place to have received the most rain in 24 hours with a weather observatory reporting it registered 305.8 millimetres of rain.
The terrifying night was followed by cities inundated in varying degrees of water levels with roads totally destroyed, communications totally cut-off, electricity and water supplies dismantled and hundreds of people in distress.
“After suffering during the evening with the heavy barrage of heavy rains and strong winds, the residents of Al Suwaiq and Al Khabourah got even more distressed when in the early morning, water from the mountains descended towards the valley sweeping away everything and doubling the damage they already experienced the night before,” reported locals Suhail al Nahdi, Saeed al Alawi and Ahmed al Buraiki.
“The water level has risen dramatically which then led to the destruction of electric poles and breaking down of power stations. The water supply has been affected too as the main water pipes got broken in many areas,” they shared.
“The roads were also broken and mud and sand accumulated. Many of the roads cracked and were swept away resulting in them being inaccessible. Palm trees were also uprooted and were washed towards homes,” they added.
This eyewitness report was supported by photographs and videos shared across social media. Some homes have totally fallen down while those that remain got flooded. Vehicles got stuck in different nooks and crannies imaginable and the death of livestock has been massive.
But while the amount of devastation was mind-boggling, it has inspired the nation to stand united in the face of adversity.
Efforts have not stopped since the cyclone ended. On the 8th of October, all roads led to Al Batinah with more than 15,000 volunteers (estimate provided by the Ministry of Finance) driving towards the governorate to participate in what would have been the largest national cleaning campaign in the Sultanate.
The state’s civil and military institutions, volunteer teams, individuals, young and old, and men and women from all governorates of the Sultanate were seen working with one spirit under the scorching sun in order to provide material and moral and physical assistance and contribute to restoring life to its normal state.
One volunteer who was in the massive event, Abdulmalik al Yaqoubi, shared on Twitter: “In one courtyard, each person just grabbed a shovel in a friendly atmosphere. They begin working until the mud faded. When it was time for a break, there was a light conversation going around. Everyone was asking ‘Where are you from?’ There were many answers.”
He added, “Someone eventually asked, “Who are the owners of the house?” One hand rose amongst 14 people. It became clear that everyone came by chance to help. It became clear to me and I felt that Oman is great with its people.”
The expat communities also came in droves to lend a helping hand. In a video circulating online, a Bengali volunteer said, “I have been here for 11 years. I love Oman and I must provide help. I am here like the rest. I have been providing assistance for 3 days in different areas cleaning and helping in water and food distribution.”
As college and university students will resume this week, many female entrepreneurs were also quick to provide assistance donating clothes, bags, shoes and many other supplies that will help them get back to their feet.
Donations also poured in from different organisations both from the private and public sectors with the money collected used to gradually compensate affected families not only with financial assistance but with water, food, clothing and other personal needs.
With tragedies like Shaheen usually causing massive psychological trauma, psychologists and other medical experts including individual volunteers created some programmes that provided entertainment, especially for women and children.
October 8 will therefore go in history as an important date where the Omani people came together to stitch the wound with their own hands and an important date that showcase how the people of Oman rose despite the pain to shake the dust off their brother’s back.
This sense of unity and rising together in the face of adversity prodded by a deep sense of commitment and care for others is one of the lasting legacies that had been instilled by the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, may God have mercy on him, to his people. It is through his leadership that we benefit from his foresight especially on national unity, interdependence and cooperation.
In the midst of the cleanup drive, Sultan Qaboos’ presence was felt as his name was always mentioned and praises were sung to him for being the role model and the teacher from whom Omanis draw their morals and behaviour.
Efforts are still ongoing as confirmed by the competent authorities. State agencies will remain in a state of emergency and one thing is clear, this will remain to be the case until every person gets back the dignity and return back to his normal life.