Heavy floods claim several lives in Iran's second biggest city Mashhad

Heavy floods claim several lives in Iran's second biggest city Mashhad
Several people are believed to have been trapped in the latest downpour to hit Khorasan in Iran. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau May 15, 2024

Sudden floods around the Iranian city of Mashhad have taken the lives of at least seven people, with three more missing. Severe flooding warnings are now issued for the entire northern stretch of the country from May 16 to May 20. 

Areas close to the northern border with Turkmenistan have seen heavy rainfall and large hail with streets, homes and shops all under more than 90cm of water in some locations. At the same time, further rain is expected across central Asia, with more predicted close to the Afghan and Tajik border.

City fire brigade divers retrieved the bodies of a man and a woman, both approximately 50 years old, in the northern Iranian city, which has seen several recent days of floods and freak weather events in part due to the wetter regional climate this year. 

Rescue operations have continued late in the evening to find other potential victims throughout the night.

On May 15, clouds darkened the city of Mashhad at around 2:00 in the afternoon local time, followed by torrential rains that caused heavy floods in the streets of the metropolis, the second most populated city in Iran after the capital Tehran.

Mehdi Babaei, Head of the Relief and Rescue Organisation of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, announced that over 800 people have been assisted in the floods affecting 11 provinces in the country.

He said that the provinces of East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, South Khorasan, Razavi Khorasan, North Khorasan, Khuzestan, Semnan, Fars, and Qazvin have been affected by the floods and waterlogging.

So far, 32 rescue operations have been carried out by Red Crescent rescuers, assisting 883 affected individuals across the large country.

He added that 50 operational teams comprising 157 rescuers and relief workers have assisted those affected by the floods and waterlogging in these 11 provinces. 

According to videos published on social media, cars were submerged and swept away by the water’s current in the Mashhad flash flood.

Several districts reported power cuts, with people getting stuck in lifts. People also called rescue teams to report the falling of trees and flooding of houses, according to Hamidreza Kafinia, managing director of the Mashhad Fire Brigade.

City authorities immediately issued a warning, urging people to stay home and avoid driving across the city. This is while all tourist sites and parks were shut down until further notice.

Rainfall in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, over three days last week equalled almost one-quarter of the city’s annual average precipitation. A Moscow-based meteorology news website said precipitation in some parts of the country reached around 40% of the yearly norm, Havli reported. 

The Turkmen capital appears to have been spared major negative consequences from the heavy rain thanks to mudflow prevention structures completed in 2022 by a Russian company, Vozrozhdenie.
Several regions of Iran have experienced floods over the past month, which, despite replenishing water resources, have caused damage to urban and rural structures.

In one recent incident, fish were seen raining down on a central city in the country, which is believed to be the only recorded fish-raining incident in West Asia.

Earlier in April, Dubai was hit with an entire year’s worth of rainfall in a single day, turning the international airport into a lake the subway.

With the temperature of the seas currently at fresh all-time highs, that is providing the energy for extreme wind events, and last year saw tornadoes and tropical storms form overseas that sucked up huge quantities of water in Florida and other places. These events are becoming increasingly common.

As bne IntelliNews reported in March, one of the effects of global warming is increased rainfall as warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate. After the hottest year on record in 2023, the atmosphere already holds circa 10% more water vapour today than just 30 years ago. The warmer the atmosphere gets, the more water it can hold – about 7% more per 1°C of warming according to the Clausius-Clapeyron equation – and scientists have already observed a significant increase in atmospheric moisture, reports Climate Signals.

The increased vaporisation leads to more rain, and the changes in extreme rainfall increase even faster than the rate of vaporisation, increasing 15% for each 1C increase in temperature.

As the now annual disaster season gets underway, several regions have already been hit with deluges this year, including France and Italy. In the last weeks Kazakhstan and Russia have been hit with “biblical” rains after the rapid melting of the winter’s heavy snowfall caused the connecting river to burst its banks.