Lebanon News

Storm inundates highways, refugee camps

BEIRUT/SIDON: Flooding across Lebanon inundated major highways and dozens of refugee settlements Tuesday. A Syrian girl remains missing and some 50 people were injured across the course of the day.

A number of roads were forced to close due to the extreme flooding precipitated by storm Norma.

Following repeated landslides and rockfall, Mount Lebanon Gov. Mohammad al-Makkawi announced Tuesday evening the closure of the Dahr al-Baidar, Zahle-Tarshish and Mount Lebanon-Bekaa highways, while North Lebanon Gov. Ramzi Nahra said the Chekka highway would close, the state-run National News Agency reported.

In live broadcasts on local TV, drivers were seen marooned on the Dbayeh highway. Civil Defense personnel launched rafts into the waters to rescue people from their vehicles.

In light of the dramatic scenes, Financial Public Prosecutor Ali Ibrahim requested from the Public Works Ministry the name of the company responsible for maintaining sewers in Dbayeh, according to LBCI news. Local media also reported that Ibrahim had summoned the head of the Choueifat Public Works Council for questioning.

Images broadcast on TV also showed people in the neighborhood of Hay al-Sellom in Beirut’s southern suburbs attempting to cross the street, knee-deep in muddy waters.

A video circulated on social media showing water pouring through a massive crack under a bridge in the main intersection of the Cola neighborhood, raising concerns over its structural soundness.

However, the Internal Security Forces later issued a statement saying that there was no public safety threat and that the water was leaking from a section of the bridge that was under maintenance.

The Lebanese Red Cross reported that it had dispatched 581 emergency teams across the country to respond to weather-related incidents, including the injury of 49 people in traffic accidents.

A photo shared on the LRC’s official Twitter page showed a woman holding her newborn baby after she delivered inside an LRC ambulance during an evacuation in Akkar. It was one of six deliveries the LRC said it assisted throughout the day.

The LRC said it has saved 703 refugees from five settlements in northern Lebanon that have flooded since the storm began.

The NNA later reported that an 8-year-old Syrian girl went missing when a torrent of floodwaters swept her from a road in the northern Minyeh-Dinnieh district, where she was playing with her sister.

Minyeh Mayor Zafer Zreika told The Daily Star that the girl’s body has not yet been found, despite the efforts of emergency teams from the Army’s Intelligence Branch and the ISF, but that “there is no doubt she is dead, due to the strength and volume of the current.”

The United Nations refugee agency released a statement saying that at least 66 informal Syrian refugee settlements have been heavily impacted by the flooding, 15 of which were completely flooded or collapsed.

The statement added that heavy snow has blanketed camps in the Bekaa Valley and that around 300 refugees have been relocated in the Bekaa area and in the north.

Caretaker Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merehbi directed caretaker Social Affairs Minister Pierre Bou Assi to temporarily transfer refugees affected by the storm to other settlements and asked mayors to begin operations to remove floodwaters from the camps.

The ISF and Civil Defense also reportedly rescued people who had become stuck in snow in the mountains overnight and throughout the day, including a group of five men who had been stuck at a cattle farm in Dinnieh since their car broke down Sunday night.

In Akkar, the Nahr al-Kabir River, which delineates Lebanon’s northern border with Syria, breached its banks and inundated agricultural land.

The mukhtar of Semmaqiyeh, one of the affected towns, told the NNA that for decades, locals have been demanding that state officials create dirt mounds like the ones on the Syrian side of Nahr al-Kabir to heighten its banks as a precautionary measure, as well as create and expand irrigation channels.

“Heavy rains often cause these disasters, and blessings of water, which we impatiently wait for, often turn to a curse,” he said.

Banana farmers in the southern town of Al-Kasmieh, in Tyre, complained that they had already fallen below the poverty line because of low banana prices this season and that now floods had washed away trees still bearing fruit, constituting a “real disaster.”

In Sidon, fishermen were beached for the third consecutive day as 5-meter-high waves raged against the port’s breakwater.

Hail and heavy winds damaged greenhouses in the city. Ahmad Reda, a farmer, told The Daily Star that he hoped the intensifying storm had not destroyed his and other farmers’ crops. “It’s a strong storm, and I hope that God will prevent damage to the crops, because the hail that is falling will pierce the citrus and vegetable leaves.”

Keeping warm from the bone-chilling temperatures, a number of Sidon fruit vendors gathered around a barrel of burning wood.

The NNA reported that a Sidon Municipality employee was hospitalized after winds brought a metal billboard crashing down on top of him at the city’s fishing port. Sidon MP and head of the Popular Nasserite Organization Osama Saad called on municipalities to remove any billboard that does not meet the legal safety requirements, after he visited the man in the hospital.

Adding to the difficult conditions, parts of the country experienced electricity outages as Lebanon’s already crumbling infrastructure took a battering.

The heavy snowfall and strong winds raging through parts of the country had prompted caretaker Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh to order all public schools across the country, including those located on the coast, to close until the storm passes.

The decision was meant to prevent “accidents of vehicles transporting students due to snow or bad visibility,” the Education Ministry said in a statement.

Although students had gone to school Tuesday morning in some coastal areas, by afternoon, classes were canceled.

Private schools continued to have the prerogative to decide whether they would open their doors.

Hamadeh’s order, which will keep the schools closed until Thursday, extends a previous decision that shut down schools in mountainous areas because of the stormy conditions, but kept those on the coast open. However, heavy rains later caused flooding and mudslides at lower altitudes and led to the collapse of roads and walls, creating treacherous conditions.

The ISF warned residents of Lebanon to stay away from the coast and beaches as well as trees and billboards as the storm intensifies.

A source from the Beirut airport’s Meteorology Department told The Daily Star that over the course of Tuesday, 65.8 millimeters of rainfall was recorded in Beirut, with the figure set to rise overnight.

The department said in a statement that icy roads could be expected Wednesday for most of the country at altitudes of 700 meters and up (think Broummana).

Stormy conditions are set to continue through Wednesday, with low temperatures, snow falling at 600 meters in the north and at higher altitudes in the rest of Lebanon, along with ice forming at 700 meters and above.

Wind speeds are predicted to range between 20 and 50 kilometers per hour, with gusts of up to 90 kilometers per hour.

The brunt of the stormy conditions will subside Thursday, though scattered showers will continue and ice is expected to form on roads 800 meters and above.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 09, 2019, on page 3.




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