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21 victims, mostly schoolchildren, die in flash flooding near Jordan's Dead Sea shore

21 victims, mostly schoolchildren, die in flash flooding near Jordan's Dead Sea shore
A man searches the site of a flash flood that swept away middle school students and teachers in Jordan. (Khalil Mazraawi / AFP/Getty Images)

The death toll from flash floods near Jordan's Dead Sea shore rose to 21 on Friday, in what civil defense officials said was one of the deadliest incidents in the kingdom involving schoolchildren.

The search for survivors continued after daybreak, with helicopters and teams with sniffer dogs scouring the rocky slopes near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.

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The body of a 12-year-old girl was found early Friday, said the director-general of the civil defense, Mustafa Basaiah. By late Friday, one person was still missing.

Thirteen of the dead and 26 of those injured in Thursday's flash floods were middle school children, officials said. They said three of those killed, including two students, were Iraqis living in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

In all, about three dozen people were injured.

The incident began early Thursday afternoon when 37 students from an Amman private school, along with seven adult chaperones and other visitors, were taking a break at hot springs several miles from the Dead Sea shore. Sudden heavy rains sent flash floods surging toward them from higher ground, sweeping them away, some as far as the Dead Sea, officials said.

A complex rescue operation involving helicopters, divers, sniffer dogs and hundreds of searchers continued into the night Thursday and resumed Friday. Israel's military said it also dispatched a rescue team at the request of the Jordanian government.

Brig. Gen. Farid Sharaa, a civil defense spokesman, said Friday that the flooding was one of the deadliest incidents in recent memory involving schoolchildren.

Jordan's King Abdullah II canceled a planned working visit to Bahrain, initially scheduled for Friday. He was to have been the keynote speaker at a security conference.

In a message on his Twitter account, the monarch said that "the pain of each father, mother and family is my pain."

He also expressed anger toward those who he said "failed to take measures that could have prevented this painful incident."

The king ordered the Jordanian flag at the palace's main entrance to fly at half-staff for three days in mourning for the victims of the flood.

The United Nations secretary-general and several regional leaders sent condolences.

The famously low-lying Dead Sea area — with shores more than 1,000 feet below sea level — is prone to flash flooding when rainwater rushes down from adjacent hills. In April, 10 Israeli students were killed in a flash flood while on a hiking trip near the Dead Sea.

3:10 p.m.: This article was updated with the increased death toll and other details.

2:35 a.m.: This article was updated to raise the death toll from 19 to 20.

This article was originally published at 12:45 a.m.

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