Day one, post tragedy... try New York City, early morning 9/11, 2001. Many will remember this as one of the most glorious days a city could have--weather-wise. The day after on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway was like that. A bright, crisp, beautiful morning. The skies at the Abu Dhabi-Dubai border were bluer and much clearer than normal. Usually one reaches the border from Abu Dhabi and notices an immediate change in the color and clarity of the sky. One wonders from where the pollution in Dubai's skies emerge, but on this 12 March morning one could clearly trace the trail of brown haze emanating from the region of Dubai's large power station and aluminum plant.
That streak of brown was only recognizable because of the contrasting blue and clarity in the rest of the sky. The skyscrapers of Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers' districts could be seen some 30 kilometers in the distance, usually quite impossible. Crucially, there was not a hint of fog in the air.
In deed, the highway itself was almost clear of traffic. Was it the absence of the 300 or so vehicles wiped out in the preceding day's melee, that would have otherwise been plying the road at this time? It had to be the humor of fate to follow the most wretched of days with the most beautiful.
Likewise, the authorities did their best to erase any trace of the calamity that had finally come to pass. At the Al Rahba site of the 60-80 crashed vehicles there was not even a scrap of noticeable debris. There was some damage to a roadside guard rail but by the looks of it, that could have happened any time. Further along at the site of the horrific Ghantoot calamity, there was the dark, scorched highway and some debris still littering the grassy areas of the interchange.
This almost paralleled what remained of any news accounts of what had happened. The Ghantoot incident was undeniable but descriptions of its magnitude had been toned down. Online news reports the evening prior had referenced 200 crashed cars and 8 deaths, but the morning news would announce only 80 crashed cars and 3 fatalities. Meanwhile, the Al Rabha incident went completely unmentioned, as though it had never happened--as though those 80 crashed cars and the commuters involved were but a figment of an over-active imagination.
True to my concerns, it seemed likely we would never know the full extent of the calamity. I am almost certain that, on my way back to Abu Dhabi this evening, I drove over patches of scorched highway that had not been there before--two to be exact, one not far from Ghantoot and another near Taweelah. But there were never any reports of crashes or fires on this side of the highway. One will never know. Abu Dhabi authorities are concerned about the reputation of the emirate, so wish to keep a lid on what really happened that fateful morning.
This is shameful, for it means a missed opportunity to use this tragedy to instill a sense of urgency among the public and those charged with maintaining safety on the highways to change their ways. Everyone needs to learn from this incident--drivers to be more careful and the officials to implement better safety measures.
Regrettably, what follows the tragedy of 11 March is an attempt to erase it from memory and pretend that all are bright, sunny days.