BEIRUT/SIDON: Lebanese officials Thursday announced a series of emergency measures aimed at preparing the country for a storm expected to hit over the weekend, even as the country grapples with the damage caused by storm Norma.
Caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said during a news conference that starting Sunday night, security forces would require all cars to use snow chains on high-altitude roads until the storm, expected to last three days, subsides. These would include the road from the coast to Faraya and the Dahr al-Baidar road connecting the coast to Bekaa.
Such precautions will hopefully prevent a repeat of Norma, when dozens of cars got stranded.
The Energy Ministry will also be instructed to clean storm drains and river channels in Greater Beirut to prevent flooding, as happened in Antelias and Metn earlier this week.
The Public Works Ministry will undertake measures to deal with structures obstructing the natural flow of the Ghadir River channel in southern Beirut, Machnouk said. The area contains a large swathe of informal settlements and infrastructure that worsened flooding during Norma.
Emergency infrastructure works will be undertaken in three other main areas as well: Chekka, Dbayeh and Jezzine, all of which had shown wear to either roads or support walls.
Machnouk’s comments came after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri chaired a meeting of ministers and other high-level officials to follow up on the widespread damages Norma caused.
Besides Machnouk, the caretaker ministers of agriculture, finance and public works attended the meeting, as did the heads of the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the Higher Relief Committee.
One of the outcomes was a decision to reactivate a crisis management body under Cabinet’s authority, and establish an operations room so that it can follow up on developments in real time. The meeting took place as work continues across Lebanon to clear roads that were covered with snow, mud and rocks over the past few days.
On the main highway between Sidon and Tyre, intensive work was underway to clear one side that had been swallowed up Wednesday by rock and debris. Machnouk said efforts would be redoubled to clear the road and provide temporary alternative routes ahead of Norma.
Ali Haballah, the regional director of the Public Works Ministry, told reporters on the scene that the large collapse had been the result of heavy rains, not the fault of structural deficiencies in a barrier wall.
“This highway was finished 10 years ago,” he said. If structural failures were to blame for the collapse, “we would have seen issues in other places, not just in this one section.”
Commenting on the widespread damages resulting from Norma, Deputy United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini tweeted Wednesday: “Norma risked & affected lives of Lebanese families due to weak infrastructure. Future incidents can be prevented thru improved infrastructure projects, maintenance & accountability #TheLebanonWeWant.”
Work must also be done to protect Lebanon’s refugee population from further flooding, a representative of the U.N.’s refugee agency said Thursday.
Lebanon’s refugees were perhaps worst hit by Norma, with the UNHCR reporting that more than 11,000 refugees at 361 camps and informal settlements were affected by severe flooding and heavy snow.
In anticipation of future severe weather incidents - the storm expected to hit Lebanon this weekend in particular - UNHCR representative Mireille Girard announced that the agency was working to find suitable temporary shelters for those displaced in the storm.
Merely draining the camps of flood water would be of little use if new storms cause flooding again, the state-run National News Agency quoted Girard as saying. Instead, she recommended that better drainage systems be constructed to prevent the recurrence of this week’s devastating floods.