Persistent rain and strong winds pummelled Malta on Thursday causing widespread damage and disruption as the Civil Protection Department appealed for the public to stay indoors.
Several areas were flooded and a gregale, dubbed Storm Helios, forced the Meteorological Office to issue an orange wind warning.
After more than 24 hours of persistent rain, CPD director Peter Paul Coleiro warned the public to stay away from coastal areas and cautioned people to stay indoors.
“If you can say indoors, please stay indoors,” Coleiro said.
“We’re seeing the coast take a battering and some areas are suffering damage while others are flooded. Thankfully, so far, nobody has been injured.”
Speaking to Times of Malta, Coleiro warned motorists not to take unnecessary risks when driving through water-logged roads.
“Do not persist if you see that the road is flooded because if you try to move forward, chances are your car will stop and this will increase the potential for danger.”
Footage shared on social media shows several roads around Malta running rivulets of streaming water as motorists attempted to navigate the poor weather conditions.
Damage reported around Malta and Gozo
The parapet wall of a row of houses in Għarb, Gozo, collapsed and damaged several parked cars.
A boulder surrounding Popeye Village in Mellieħa was dislodged and collapsed onto one of the small structures of the popular tourist attraction below it.
Another wall collapsed in Triq San Gorg, St Paul's Bay, damaging two cars in the process. According to witnesses, a man had just walked out of the car, seconds before the wall collapsed.
A false ceiling in the Malta International Airport VIP lounge partially collapsed, slightly injuring one person.
Police urged motorists to avoid Mqabba road, Ta' Kandja, Siġġiewi and seek an alternative route after a tree was uprooted and blocked the road.
In Valletta, a popular diving platform off the Mediterranean Conference Centre, was swallowed by the raging waves.
An old dovecote (barumbara) at Wied il-Lunzjata in Rabat, Gozo, had also started to cave in as a result of the waters, according to a member of Wirt Għawdex.
In several areas, water reached the top of the tyres of vehicles and flooded centre strips.
In Mdina Road, Qormi, among others, water was seen spraying out of a manhole cover and doing very little to alleviate the water retention on the drenched tarmac.
Similar scenes were reported in Balzan and Mosta, readers reported, while in St Julian’s a bus shelter was shattered, with the bench toppled over and the back-panel glass hanging on by a thread to the metal frame above.
The Malta Road Traffic Updates app reported that Triq il-Marsa, the road leading to the Turkish cemetery in Marsa, St Andrew’s Road in Pembroke and Tal-Barrani road, which is the primary arterial road linking Tarxien, Fgura, Żabbar, Żejtun, Għaxaq and the Bulebel industrial estate, are waterlogged and should be avoided.
The wind and rain also led to an increased demand for taxis.
Matthew Bezzina from Ecabs said this was due to various reasons, including the inconvenience of alternative modes of transport such as walking, cycling or waiting for a bus.
Besides, as rain also led to additional traffic, people who would otherwise make multiple stops in the morning opted to book a cab.
A spokesperson for the Met Office told Times of Malta on Thursday that the Maltese Islands are set to experience very strong (F7) east to east northeast winds, at times reaching gale force (F8) over the exposed areas.
“The weather will be cloudy and rainy throughout the day, with precipitation becoming moderate to heavy at times. The wind is expected to decrease slightly by this evening, becoming strong east northeast (F6), and then increasing again overnight, reaching gale force (F8),” the spokesperson said.
Localised thunderstorms and hail are also expected on Thursday evening, the spokesperson added, saying that a gale wind warning is also currently in force for the sea area 50 nautical miles from Malta.
Times of Malta photographer Jonathan Borg captured the coastal areas in the North Harbour area taking a severe battering from the rough seas, with crashing waves tumbling over the rocks and onto the promenade in Sliema.
In Valletta, the sea churned tirelessly beneath the gloomy grey skies, with waves crashing into the breakwater.
The Gozo Channel operator said trips, including those scheduled for Friday, might be delayed or even cancelled.
Gozitans employed by the Ministry for Active Ageing who work in Malta are meanwhile being asked to report to work at Dar Padova in Gozo. Minister Jo Etienne Abela urged Gozitan ministry employees to contact their superiors as soon as possible.
Aġenzija Sapport employees were also asked to work from Gozo, Minister for Social Wellbeing Julia Farrugia Portelli said.
Several shops and offices shuttered their premises as the rain increased.
Enemalta said its Customer Response Team has been reinforced by 50% additional technical staff to make sure any damages caused to exposed infrastructure, which may occur due to bad weather, are repaired in a timely manner.
The Met Office said the impact of Storm Helios could be on par with the 2019 gregale where wind gusts reached 133km/h in speed.
“The effects of this storm are expected to be somewhat similar to the storm of 2019 with gale force winds affecting the Maltese Islands, gusts reaching up to 60 knots on Friday, February 10, and high seas on the Northeastern coast. The public is advised to take the necessary precautions,” the spokesperson said.
On Friday, gale-force (F8) winds are expected throughout the day, becoming very strong (F7) by the evening, with the weather largely being cloudy with showers. The maximum temperature is expected to reach 13°C while the minimum temperature will drop to 9°C. Real feel temperature during the day is expected to be 9°C.
The Met Office said that wind is expected to decrease overnight between Friday and Saturday, becoming strong to rather strong (F5-6) by Saturday morning. On Saturday evening, the wind is expected to die down to a light to moderate northeast wind (F3-4). The weather will be partly cloudy, with a maximum air temperature of 14°C and a minimum air temperature of 7°C.
Sunday will be partly cloudy with a light (F2-3) north-northwest wind. A maximum air temperature of 14°C and a minimum of 6°C are forecast for the day.
St Paul procession postponed to Saturday
Meanwhile, the Għaqda tal-Pawlini, which organises Valletta’s feast of St Paul, being celebrated on Friday, said the external festivities which were meant to be held on Thursday and Friday have been postponed to Saturday.
The internal festivities will continue as planned. These include the pontifical mass on Friday. A musical programme will also be held at the La Valette Philharmonic Society premises on Friday at 1.30pm.
On Saturday, an activity dubbed Marċi Pawlini, will be held in Triq Santa Luċija at 2pm followed by the procession with St Paul’s statue along the streets of Valletta, starting from 5.30pm.
Food delivery apps suspend courier services
As the storm continued throughout the afternoon, those without plans for their lunch may have been left with their stomachs rumbling as food delivery apps suspended their courier services, saving drivers from having to face the inclement weather.
Several restaurants hosted on Bolt closed their restaurants for deliveries from the app, while rivals Wolt posted a notice at the top of the app advising clients that delivery options are limited and that even where delivery is possible, this may take a long time to arrive due to the poor weather.
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