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October 29, 2008 Permalink

Storm-battered Yemen

Last weekend heavy storms crashed through Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world. The wind, rain and lightning killed a number people initiallly, but the subsequent flooding took a much larger toll, in both lives and property. The hard-hit Hadramaut region is home to the ancient walled city of Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nicknamed the "Manhattan of the desert". The structures in Shibam and neighboring villages are mud-brick construction, and were damaged badly by the rain and flooding, many collapsing when their foundations were undercut. The World Health Organization has estimated that 180 people have died, mostly in building collapses, though that number is likely to change as debris is cleared away. (22 photos total)

A file photo from April 2007 handed out by the Aga Khan Award for architecture shows the ancient city of Shibam, Yemen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and and one of three major urban centres in Wadi Hadramaut. Heavy rains swept through Yemen's southeastern province of Hadramaut, which has now been declared a disaster zone, local officials said on October 24,2008. (ANNE DE HENNING/AFP/Getty Images)
more photos
This page lists only comments and the first photo for the entry.
To see the entire entry, with all photographs, click here.

46 comments so far...

I'm glad that Shibam was not affected too much - have always wanted to visit.

Posted by adam bennett October 29, 08 11:16 AM

My heart goes out to everyone affected; the building materials may be different, but the images of destruction and people trying to rescue what they can are all too familiar to many we've seen in the last couple of years.

Posted by JHN October 29, 08 11:32 AM

Ajna ðikt...

Posted by Priegaidis October 29, 08 11:34 AM

It blows my mind that most of those buildings are made of packed down mud.
But the fact that they are disintegrating like that is very unfortunate.

Incredible photos.

Posted by Thomas October 29, 08 11:35 AM

Sad to see...

Posted by Jess October 29, 08 11:36 AM

Ancient high-rises? Wow!I wonder why all the buildings look the same.

Posted by shiv October 29, 08 12:11 PM

Thank god Adam can still visit Shibam. That's lucky!

Posted by Jimmy October 29, 08 12:13 PM

Does anyone know what material are those buildings made of? Whatever it is, it doesn't seem all that sturdy.

Posted by Kyle October 29, 08 12:20 PM

praise the lord Shibam was mostly saved indeed! amazing pictures as usual...

Posted by flawijn October 29, 08 12:45 PM

So this is how the other half lives ...

Posted by Rishi Singh October 29, 08 12:55 PM

Adam Bennett: you are an ass.

Posted by Patrick October 29, 08 01:20 PM

Wow, what a rare occurrence this must be if those buildings are so old and made out of materials that clearly aren't designed for heavy rain. I am glad that you sometimes single out hard times around the world that otherwise might go unnoticed. I doubt that American media cares much about stories like this. Thank you for the great photo blog!

Posted by Cristin McKee October 29, 08 02:50 PM

why is adam an ass? it's true that aside from a few buildings falling down, it doesn't look like shibam suffered widespread catastrophic damage.
shibam is one place i'd like to visit in my lifetime too, and from the pictures it looks like it's still there thankfully.

Posted by Jerry October 29, 08 03:43 PM

The frustration with Adam that is expressed above stems from the conclusion people are making that Adam is only glad the city has been saved so that it will be convenient for him to visit at a future date.

I'll give Adam the benefit of the doubt and assume he may also appreciate that the city's survival may also be of benefit to its residents.

Posted by Dan October 29, 08 04:29 PM

This edition of Big Picture was particularly nice.


Posted by Maikel October 29, 08 04:56 PM

I am sure that Adam cares deeply that you're giving him the benefit of the doubt. I too would be so grateful were I to come under your righteous and withering gaze.

Posted by Pete October 29, 08 05:06 PM

For those interested in seeing photographs of Shibam through Aga Khan Award for Architecture website

Posted by arif October 29, 08 06:35 PM

Very Saddening indeed. My heart goes out to the victims.

Posted by Narahari G S October 29, 08 11:43 PM

#21 touched me deeply. Thank you for going and showing. May God's angles protect you as you help us see the world.

Posted by A/b October 30, 08 07:29 AM

I'm so sad to see this tragedy. I've lived and worked in the Hadramawt, mostly Shibam and Seiyun, episodically since the 1990s, and worry for my friends and colleagues. Yemen is a very poor country, and many of its people simply can't afford to be buffeted like this.

For those who asked: the houses are traditionally built from mud brick with stone foundations and timber reinforcements and floors. The tops and bottoms of the houses are covered in plaster to afford them some waterproofing, but if enough water gets into the walls, they'll collapse.

Posted by Paul Zimmerman October 30, 08 07:35 AM

The first photo is well placed, it shows a beautiful yet ancient city surrounded by an incredible landscape. It makes the photos that follow all that more devastating. My heart goes out to those people and I hope they receive the assistance that is needed for them to recover.

Posted by Julia October 30, 08 10:46 AM

Alla provides.

Posted by Bob October 30, 08 10:58 AM

The typical example of the cruel face of nature.... How much the victims would have suffered....!!!!!

Posted by Ruble October 30, 08 11:30 AM

Hi everybody,
A fan page of the Boston Globe picture has been created on Facebook...

Posted by BG October 30, 08 12:37 PM

Wow, so utterly different.

Posted by The Baltimore Babe October 30, 08 12:49 PM

Ironic that they have ancient structures made of mud, while in America we tear down 20 old buildings made of steel, concrete and wood.

Posted by Matt October 30, 08 08:13 PM

Great pictures as always. And a good lesson... don't build a mud house in a valley and at the bottom of a flood plain. I guess that's why they are still living in mud houses in 2008.

Posted by mr nice October 31, 08 12:07 AM

another side of the world, I may not be so

Posted by billy October 31, 08 12:31 AM

Palaces made of mud are still called home.

Posted by Nick October 31, 08 01:28 AM

good looks, though not as many pics as i'd like to see! you should do a series of pics of various old town type cities. and by old town i mean cities that aren't made of steel and eastern turkey, or or old parts in syria

Posted by freshouttatime October 31, 08 08:35 AM

For me, it's a shock to see these photos since I used to live in Yemen and rainfall was usually very scarce. So I can imagine the country was ill-prepared for this and, as a commenter said earlier, it will be that much harder for the Yemenis to recover from since so many are poor.

Thanks again to The Big Picture for highlighting this disaster, which is given so little attention in the mainstream media.

Posted by Bobo October 31, 08 12:53 PM

We can pray also, if anyone is in position can go there and help!

Posted by Anonymous November 1, 08 03:45 AM

This is about as nice as it gets. I really like your photography which is a step above the best.

Posted by Abraham Lincoln November 1, 08 09:40 AM

Just to add a bit about the construction, mud brick is actually quite sturdy under most circumstances. Archaeologists in the Middle East regularly uncover still substantial structures that are 3,000 years old and still recognizable after being deserted and buried for almost all that time. It sun-bakes quite solid and in a region with very little wood or easily quarried stone, it's the perfect building material, resistant to erosion from sand and wind, good insulation from both heat and cold, and easily made.

The problem, though, with torrential rain is that it presents two threats to mud brick buildings. The ground in the area is typically a very sandy dirt with very little solid rock. When it floods, it becomes unstable and shifts around. (Look at how easy it is to make a footprint in damp sand.) This starts to tear the walls apart and so the water penetrates them and further weakens them.

The buildings that survived relatively intact were probably on more stable ground than the others, which is why they seem to be in clusters.

Posted by Ann the Nerd November 1, 08 11:14 AM

It may sound obvious or trite, but someone in a position of authority there needs to insist that the buildings be constructed and or installed with overhangs to protect from the rain. Climate change is a serious and very real fact. The city of Baghdad has a good example of stepped envelopes and overhangs to protect mud-brick buildings from the rain. This could look quite picturesque to have a "roofline" over this city, and would not be as expensive as rebuilding or having waterproof plasters and paint. Probably more environmentally friendly in the long-run.

Posted by Don Albert November 1, 08 11:35 AM

Excellent photographs of difficult life experiences.

Posted by Anna Dunwell November 2, 08 10:31 PM

Wonderful photography. It is such a sad thing to see. Our hearts go out to the folks in that region.

Posted by Paul Badgett November 3, 08 10:41 AM

I am suddenley so sad to see this tragedy! no one talk about it in France
our hearts go to the people of Yemen, we went in Shebban in february 2006, I always think that we were lucky people to have the privilege of meeting so nice Yemeni people and see such a wonderful country, with a great history ans gorgeaoux architecture

Posted by Claire and Planet Roller November 4, 08 02:26 PM

Thank God to see my city still standing in the face of sucj massive trpical storm
Thank u God to protect it
also thank u GTZ for the great efforts u exert to save Shiam

Posted by Abdullah Shuaib November 4, 08 05:03 PM

WTF, esos tios necesitan ayuda, y urgente -.-

Posted by Raphael November 8, 08 02:25 PM

Mr Nice/Knucklehead,
the problem isn't that the houses are built of mud, it is that the foundations are built on sand (maybe the Koran doesn't have that part about building on a rock) Building with bricks and steel doesn't seem to help all the houses that are destroyed every year in tropical storms which generally only leave behind their cement foundations. These buildings have lasted for centuries, proving that building with mud is a good idea and the whole concept is fairly environmentally sound, thereby not contributing to the greenhouse effect which probably caused this freak storm.

Posted by Eugenie November 10, 08 06:32 AM

I had the great priviledge of visiting Yemen in 2005 with a Yemeni friend. This is a place so beautiful and ancient that it changed my world view. The people were gracious and charming. When I heard about the flooding I was heartsick. Thanks for the great photos. It meant a lot to see what is really happening. Adam-don't put off the journey to Yemen. It is an amazing place.

Posted by Vicki Rega November 13, 08 02:27 PM

You can offer to help the people of Hadramaut with donations via
Friends of Hadramaut

The Friends of the Hadhramaut

Who help with building of schools and medical facilities etc

Posted by DjD November 23, 08 07:10 AM

Hadramaut is an old byblical name, meaning originally "death yard"

Posted by Hebrew speaker November 25, 08 07:51 AM

i was born not to far from shebam and there is one thing i like to share with you readers .

all the aids or most of it was send to help the victims of the flood have been confiscated by the officials witch most of them from the north and been sold in the markets , not even 10% made it to the needy .
the world knew how corrupt is the Yemeni government .
just let you people knew that .
i have many news article talking about this matter but it will be to hard for me to translate it to English .

Posted by October 30, 09 10:25 PM

het doet mij echt pijn aan m `n hart alle elende die deze mensen hier meemaken na deze storm er is veel elende, en komen deze mensen er weer bovenop? ik wil in 2010 janiari gaan kijken van ik hier iemand kan steunen.

Posted by bar van hoeckel-pypers November 7, 09 01:57 PM
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