DEAD SEA, JORDAN - Flash floods unleashed by heavy rains swept away a group of middle school students and teachers visiting hot springs near the Dead Sea on Thursday, killing 18 and injuring 35 as the torrent carried some for several kilometers, a civil defense official said.
Thirteen people escaped unhurt, said Brig. Gen. Farid al-Sharaa, speaking after nightfall as large spotlights illuminated the flooded area. Some survived by clinging to rocks, he said.
A dramatic rescue operation involving helicopters and divers continued into the night. Israel's military said it dispatched a search-and-rescue team at the request of Jordan's government.
Al-Sharaa said 37 middle school students, seven teachers and other visitors were at the hot springs near the Dead Sea on Thursday afternoon, some eating lunch, when they were taken by surprise by the flooding.
"It swept away the students for four to five kilometers,'' some as far as the Dead Sea, he said.
The low-lying Dead Sea area, part of the Jordan Valley, is prone to flash flooding when rainwater rushes down from adjacent hills. In April, 10 Israeli students were killed when they were surprised by a flash flood during a hiking trip near the Dead Sea.
In Jordan, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz rushed to the scene Thursday afternoon and later visited the wounded in a local hospital.
As the death toll continued to rise Thursday, Jordan's King Abdullah II announced that he had canceled a visit to Bahrain, which had been scheduled for Friday.