SIDON/BEIRUT: Work began to repair damage from storm Norma and reopen roads across Lebanon, as the fierce winds and deluges of rain and snow that battered the country for three days began to subside.
Across the country, the Public Works Ministry and local municipalities dispatched workers to clear roads of snow and debris that had collected after a night of heavy precipitation. The Internal Security Forces reported the reopening of 24 roads Wednesday, including the Dahr al-Baidar road connecting the coast to the Bekaa that was reopened to all vehicles except trucks.
A host of other mountain roads remain impassable due to snowdrifts, and some roads will require more serious fixes where large rocks ripped apart asphalt. Other roads collapsed entirely, including one between Ghaboun and Rashmaya in Aley.
Parliament’s Public Works, Transportation, Energy and Water Committee will hold an emergency session Thursday to assess storm damage and establish the next steps for carrying out repairs.
Meanwhile, head of the Higher Relief Committee Mohammad Kheir assured reporters that “all those who were affected by the storm will be compensated,” following a tour in Antelias, where trucks were unloading sand to prevent further flooding.
The state-run National News Agency reported that in southern Nabatieh, snow had fallen overnight Tuesday to altitudes as low as 600 meters, leading to many road closures, including in the Jabal al-Rihan region, known for its pine forests. In the north, snow fell at about 500 meters in Akkar and at 600 meters in the Bsharri district.
Beirut airport’s Meteorology Department forecast that snowfall would retreat to above 800 meters by Thursday morning and issued warnings to drivers, asking them to exercise caution to avoid skidding.
Rivers across the country breached their banks, including the Litani, the Ghadir and Nahr al-Kabir in the north.
Local media reported that torrential floods had swept away an 8-year-old Syrian girl in northern Minyeh. She was later found dead.
In Tyre’s Burj Rahhal, a man was injured after a landslide destroyed part of the Tyre-Sidon highway.
Akkar, just north of Minyeh, was also hit hard. Dozens of hectares of agricultural land on its lower coastal plains flooded as Nahr al-Kabir expanded through the night.
Speaking with a local TV reporter, a farmer said crops that had been planted had almost certainly all perished. “If we are part of this country,” the farmer implored, “we ask the state to see this situation and help us.” The man said locals had woken up during the night and had to flee their homes as floodwaters entered.
Civil Defense units launched Zodiac rafts at a Batroun farm in an effort to rescue some 20 dogs from deep floodwaters and salvage some of their owner’s personal belongings.
Antelias, in Metn, also experienced flooding of over a meter. Caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil accused local government, saying his ministry had cleaned the river channel, while Metn MP Elias Hankash blamed mismanagement.
Civil Defense reported rescuing around 250 people from cars stuck in snow over the course of the storm.
Several were rescued in 17 operations late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
An unidentified number of people were rescued from three cars in an operation on the Hazarta-Twiti road in the Bekaa Valley at 4 a.m. In Kfar Zebian, Civil Defense worked from 1-6 a.m. to free a family of four, including two children.
Lebanon’s refugees continue to suffer the worst of storm Norma, with the U.N. refugee agency reporting that 11,000 people at 151 sites have been heavily affected so far, as heavy rains weakened tent structures and filled settlements with floodwater.
The Red Cross reported that it had dispatched 534 ambulances to transport patients to hospital and respond to emergency calls Tuesday, and that its teams helped deliver a baby to a Syrian woman in the Akkar village of Wadi Khaled.
As the storm abates, residents of Lebanon should beware of new potential dangers. Snow that has covered low-lying areas and refugee settlements is set to melt and cause flooding. Water from rivers that burst their banks will likely contain sewage, among other contaminants.
Bekaa Gov. Jamal Abou Jaoude released a statement urging the public to wash with detergent any items that had come in contact with river water, saying it was likely mixed with sewage and chemicals.
He also urged farmers not to plant on their lands before tests for contaminants could be carried out.
The storm was not all negative, though. As the weather cleared, some Sidon farmers were returning to their fields. “Today I’m picking some beans from this field that the storm prevented me from working in,” Mustapha Hasan told The Daily Star.
Ali Gharib went to inspect citrus orchards that had survived the storm. “Thank God, this is a good season. ... We will stop irrigation by pumps,” he told The Daily Star, adding that he hoped his crop would find buyers at the markets.
Shepherds took their sheep out to fields to bathe in warm sunlight after several days of overcast skies.
Kinian, a Syrian Kurdish girl living with her family in a Sidon orchard, told The Daily Star that she had decided to take her small lamb out after it had been locked inside for four days because of the storm.
“We are happy with the departure of the storm and the return of warmth,” she said.
And there were benefits beyond agriculture. The Internal Security Forces reported registering only 234 speeding violations Tuesday, down from about 1,000 on normal days.
Additionally, those looking to ski in the next few days will be welcomed by great snow conditions in the country’s resorts, many of which are set to reopen after having closed during the storm.