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Two dead as Saudi storm closes schools, cuts main road to Mecca

— Riyadh (AFP)

At least two people died on Thursday as heavy rains hit western Saudi Arabia, including the coastal city of Jeddah, delaying flights and forcing schools to close, officials said.

"Two deaths have been recorded so far, and we call on everyone not to go out unless necessary," the Mecca regional government said on its Twitter page.

The Mecca region includes Jeddah, the kingdom's second-largest city of roughly four million people, and Mecca city, the holiest city in Islam where millions perform the hajj and umrah pilgrimages each year.

The road connecting the two, which many pilgrims use to reach Mecca, was closed on Thursday once the rains began, state media reported, although it was later reopened, authorities said.

The state-affiliated Al-Ekhbariya channel showed footage of worshippers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca circling the Kaaba -- the cubic structure that is the focal point of Islam -- under a heavy downpour.

In Jeddah, images posted to social media showed standing water snarling traffic and partially submerging some vehicles.

The city's King Abdulaziz International Airport said that "due to weather conditions, the departure of some flights has been delayed" and urged passengers to contact carriers for up-to-date schedules.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported before dawn that schools in the city would temporarily be closed as rains were forecast to continue throughout the day.

Schools were also closed in the nearby towns of Rabigh and Khulais "to preserve the safety of male and female students", SPA said.

The kingdom is in the middle of final exams, yet schools had already been closed nationwide on Wednesday after King Salman declared a holiday following Saudi Arabia's shock defeat of Argentina in the World Cup.

Winter rainstorms and flooding occur almost every year in Jeddah, where residents have long decried poor infrastructure.

Floods killed 123 people in the city in 2009 and 10 more two years later.

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