BEIRUT/SIDON, Lebanon: Strong winds and floods killed a man and washed away a baby boy and caused travel misery as it swept across Lebanon for a second day Monday, in what the Meteorological office described as a "rare storm."
The Education Ministry announced the closure of all public and private schools Tuesday and Wednesday.
Police identified the fatality as Joseph Antoine Sfeir. They said the 69-year-old man was killed when his car skidded due to heavy rain on the Zhaima-Mansourieh road in the Metn region north of Beirut.
Meanwhile, Civil Defense said rescue teams were still searching for seven-month-old Youssef al-Fadel who was washed away by heavy rain overnight.
The boy is the son of a Lebanese shepherd family that lives in a tent on the foot of Jadra, in the Iqlim al-Kharroub region east of Sidon, south Lebanon.
“There has been a decrease in floods since midday [Monday] which will allow our teams to go down to the valley and search for the baby,” one official told The Daily Star.
The boy’s brother, Abdo, said the family of 10 was sleeping when their tent flooded.
“We were sleeping in our tent when we heard a strange sound and a few seconds later rain flooded our tent,” Abdo, 11, told The Daily Star.
“We all fled and my mother carried Youssef, but he slipped from her arms as she ran and was swept away by the rain,” Abdo added.
The violent storm uprooted nearly a dozen tents in the hills of Jadra overnight. The tents had been set up by Lebanese shepherds who hail from the Bekaa town of Deir Zannoun in east Lebanon.
The Civil Defense was able to rescue all three families stranded by flood water in Jadra. However, at least 300 goats perished in the storm.
Strong winds and rain also tore down several billboards along the coastal highway that links Beirut with Sidon.
The road at the Awali River, just north of Sidon, was closed after heavy rainfall choked the portion of the drainage channel near the river.
Powerful winds at 100 km/hour toppled several trees and ripped up agricultural greenhouses along the coastal highway between Sidon and the rest of south Lebanon.
In the coastal town of Rmaileh, a giant tree fell onto the road, disrupting traffic, particularly school buses.
An old tree fell near Rizk hospital in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh overnight, severely damaging two parked cars.
Scores of homes in Wardanieh in Iqlim al-Kharroub have flooded due to the heavy rains.
The harsh winter storm, which began late Saturday, left behind a mess in Beirut and surrounding areas.
Motorists were stuck in traffic after torrential rain turned many roads and tunnels across Lebanon into a quagmire.
"It was terrible. The trip from my house in Sin al-Fil to [Beirut] airport, which normally takes 10 minutes at this time of the night, took me one whole hour," said a citizen who had to drop his daughter off to catch a 2 a.m. flight.
Many parents did not send their children to school and many of those who did go arrived late.
Beirut’s Karantina road was turned into a river Sunday night after pouring rain battered the city over the previous 24 hours.
The Beirut Fire Department said in a statement Monday it had rescued scores of people stranded late Sunday and early Monday in the capital’s flooded streets, mainly in the Karantina area.
It said rescue squads have worked since Sunday to suck out rainwater from a “huge number of flooded homes.”
A landslide turned the main road of Nahr al-Mot, north of Beirut, into a muddy swamp, that left drivers stuck for hours.
In nearby Antelias, the first floor of a building was flooded after the Antelias River water level rose.
Many roadside walls have collapsed due to the storm, including a concrete wall along the Champville College, a private French-language school in Metn. No one was hurt.
Several cars were damaged when a concrete wall collapsed in the northeastern Beirut suburb of Hazmieh, causing massive traffic jams.
Further up, in Mansourieh, the main road was cut as the floods continued to rise.
Rain caused disruption throughout the country as pools of water closed many roads, mainly Shweifat-Aramoun and Beiteddine-Baakline roads in Mount Lebanon.
Floods also impeded traffic in east Lebanon, resulting in cars breaking down on the Ablah-Riaq, Firzil-Zahle and Bar Elias-Masnaa roads.
On the Chtaura highway that links Beirut with Damascus, members of the Internal Security Forces prevented motorists from crossing toward Dahr al-Baidar if their cars were not equipped with snow chains.
In the north of the country, the picture was similar with floods forcing road closures, particularly the road linking Koura with Tripoli and that leading to Akkar.
Public and private schools, including vocational and technical colleges, were ordered to close Tuesday and Wednesday.
A statement issued by Education Minister Hassan Diab attributed the closure to the ongoing storm which the Meteorological Department said will continue for the next two days.
“This is a rare storm. Lebanon hasn't witnessed such a storm in decades,” a source at the Meteorological office told The Daily Star.
The source said the storm, coming from Russia, reached its peak strength Sunday and Monday.
“However, it will continue Tuesday and Wednesday with heavy rains and thunder storms and lower temperatures,” the source added.
He said snow is expected to fall as low as 500 meters and below above sea level between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.
The source said the storm is expected to dwindle late Wednesday to early Thursday to showers.
President Michel Sleiman kept a close watch on the storm Monday. He discussed measures to cope with the blizzard with Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.
A statement from the presidential palace said Sleiman urged the cooperation of the concerned ministries as well Civil Defense, Lebanese Red Cross, municipalities and local authorities in opening roads, removing barriers and providing assistance to citizens.