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According to Reuters, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said the school may have broken regulations which ban trips to the Dead Sea area during bad weather.

The country was hit with sudden heavy rain, which flooded the hot springs area near the Dead Sea. The search for missing persons is ongoing and air force helicopters have been deployed to comb the area and search for survivors. A number of families picnicking in the popular destination were also among the dead and injured, rescuers said, without giving a breakdown of numbers.

Doctor Mahmoud Zureigat, general manager of al-Basheer public hospital in Amman where the victims were transported, said the dead arrived with severe injuries to their bodies.

"The troops were sent at the request of the Jordanian government".

The low-lying Dead Sea area is prone to flash flooding when rain water rushes down from adjacent hills.

17 of the passengers - mostly children - are reported dead, and another 22 are reported injured in the incident.

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"I and all Jordanians are also bereaved by this tragedy", His Majesty said, adding that the tragedy touched the hearts of people in the region and around the world, who expressed their solidarity with Jordan.

For his part, King Abdullah II cancelled a trip to Bahrain to follow the rescue operations, ordered flags to be lowered to half-mast and announced a three-day mourning period.

In April, nine Israeli teenagers hiking south of the Dead Sea were killed in a similar flood.

The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, is surrounded by steep valleys and gullies that frequently see flash floods and landslides in autumn and winter.

An official with Jordan's civil defence department told the Jordan Times newspaper the death toll was expected to increase.

Jordan launched a major operation on Thursday to search for survivors involving army divers, and neighbouring Israel said it was assisting with search-and-rescue helicopters.