Toddler dies as downpour wreaks havoc in Iraq

BAGHDAD - Torrential rain caused chaos across several parts of Iraq on Thursday, with flood waters sweeping a toddler to her death and damaging camps for the displaced.

The storm that hit Baghdad on Wednesday evening was unusually violent and the first after a long, dry summer.

According to a spokesman for the meteorological department, 54 millimetres (2.1 inches) of rain fell on the Baghdad region in 24 hours, causing thigh-high flooding on some streets.

A three-year-old girl died when she was swept away by the water at a camp for displaced people near Tuz Khurmatu, about 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of Baghdad, officials said.

The poor condition of infrastructure in Baghdad, the Arab world's second largest city with an estimated population of more than eight million, resulted in spectacular flooding.

The government declared Thursday a national holiday, knowing that many residents would be unable to reach their workplace due to the impact on transportation.

Many motorists were unable to move their vehicles, stranding them on the roadside in the most flooded areas as others were marooned in the middle of deep pools of water.

In one video posted on social media, the staff in a Baghdad hospital were seen wading knee-deep in water.

Residents of some neighbourhoods of the capital spent most of the night bailing rain mixed with sewage water from the ground floor of their homes.

"Forget the furniture, I am afraid of the diseases this can spread. Shame on our past leaders, who allowed everything in this city to rot," said Ahmed, from northwestern Baghdad.

'Even worse' forecast

A wave of protests erupted this year in Iraq over the poor quality of services, including the lack of electricity when summer temperatures topped 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit).

In areas around the capital, rivers of mud wrecked the tented camps set up for the people displaced by conflict in the western province of Anbar and other regions of Iraq.

In Amriyat al-Fallujah, a town in Anbar just west of Baghdad, 500 tents were destroyed and around 1,000 families had to be transferred to mosques and schools.

"The people were scared. They could see their tents swept away and disappearing in the mud," Shaker al-Issawi, the local chief, told AFP.

The governor of Anbar, Suhaib al-Rwai, asked the government to open a bridge that separates his province from Baghdad and which displaced people are usually prevented from crossing.

Weather forecasts predicted more thunderstorms for Friday and next week.

"Starting on Monday, it could even worse than this and last for three days," a researcher from the meteorological service.