Jordan floods death toll increases, mostly schoolchildren

Search and rescue efforts continue in the Dead Sea area after flash floods swept away scores of people on Thursday.

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    The death toll from flash floods in Jordan's Dead Sea area has risen to at least 21, according to the country's civil defence, as search and rescue operations continued for a second day.

    The victims were mostly schoolchildren from the capital, Amman, who were visiting the area on a field trip, Petra news agency reported on Friday.

    They were swept away when a heavy downpour on Thursday sent flash floods towards the area where the students and other picnickers were sitting.

    At least 35 people were injured and a nearby bridge also collapsed, according to local media reports.

    Jordanian civil defence said in a statement that some people are still unaccounted for, raising fears that the death toll could rise.

    Doctor Mahmoud Zureigat, general manager of al-Basheer public hospital in Amman where the victims were transported, said the dead arrived with severe injuries to their bodies.

    "Though the final cause of death was drowning, all of the victims however suffered from broken bones and other injuries because they were hit by huge boulders as they were being swept away by the flash flood," he told Al Jazeera.

    Zureigat said almost all of the dead have been claimed by their families.

    Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz was on the scene to oversee the rescue mission on Friday. He said he would form a fact-finding committee to investigate the circumstances of the deaths, according to Petra.

    For his part, King Abdullah II cancelled a trip to Bahrain to follow the rescue operations, ordered flags to be lowered to half-mast and announced a three-day mourning period.

    The king expressed his "anger and "great sadness" in a Twitter post on Friday and promised to hold those responsible to account.

    "My sorrow and pain are severe and great, and I am only as angry with all those who failed to take action that could have prevented this painful incident," he said.

    "I console Jordan and myself for losing members of my large family. The pain and suffering of every family is my own pain and suffering as well. We belong to God and to him we return." 

    'Accountability'

    On the day of the school's field trip, Jordan's national weather and government agencies had issued severe weather warnings.

    Jordanian schools must submit detailed plans of their intended field trips and obtain the Ministry of Education's approval before going on a trip.

    Education Minister Azmi Mahaftha said the private school - Amman-based Victoria College - was responsible, not his ministry, for "providing wrong information on their field trip application", according to local media reports.

    Meanwhile, several people from the area where the floods hit told Al Jazeera that they had repeatedly complained about the bridge that collapsed to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. They said that no action had been nor had the bridge been inspected.

    Hasan al-Ghwairi, a local resident, said the bridge and the roads in the area were in poor condition.

    "Despite our protests and asking for repairs, the government never paid attention to us," he said.

    Al Jazeera contacted the Jordanian government for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.

    "We will investigate this tragic incident and hold those responsible to account and bring them to justice if found responsible," Ghazi al-Hawamleh, a member of parliament from the southern city of Tafelieh, told Al Jazeera.

    He added that there must be accountability for anyone found to be responsible for the bridge's collapse, which could include the construction contractor and the minister of public works, who would have authorised the construction.

    Jordanians took to social media to express condolences to the families of the victims while criticising the government for poor infrastructure in the country and a lack of accountability.

    Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News