BEIRUT: Civil defense and security forces re-opened Beirut Airport road Thursday, a day after heavy rains brought mud into the underpass of the vital highway, blocking it in both directions.
Traffic was diverted off the airport highway down to the Ouzai road earlier in the day, creating bumper-to-bumper crawls and leaving hundreds of commuters stranded for hours.
Heavy downpour since Wednesday morning has triggered floods in several parts of Beirut as well as in eastern, northern and southern Lebanon.
The season’s first heavy rainfall also created havoc in many parts of the country and caused traffic jams in Beirut and its suburbs, mainly the Dbayeh highway, Dora, Nahr al-Mot and Nahr al-Kalb.
President Michel Sleiman followed up on the procedures and measures taken to address the road flooding as a result of the one-day rainstorm, his office said.
Sleiman asked the concerned agencies in ministers to remain on high alert and carry out their duties in such circumstances.
Civil Defense workers struggled all night to pull cars and passenger vans out of the flooded tunnel.
Caretaker Transportation and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi called off a news conference that had been scheduled for midday to address the road flooding.
Head of the Public Works Parliamentary Committee MP Mohammad Qabbani blamed Aridi for the flooding, saying the ministry neglected to carry out maintenance work on the streets.
"The Public Works Ministry spent so much money on non urgent matters such as paving the streets in several areas and neglected needed maintenance work that should have been the priority,” Qabbani told a local radio station.
"It is unfortunate that scenes of flooding are repeating every year ... the disaster will recur especially that yesterday's rain was merely the first stage of winter,” he added.
The Meteorology Department at Beirut Airport told The Daily Star that rainfall will continue until Friday evening, with winds to approach 70 kms per hour.
Local media blamed Lebanese officials, particularly the public works ministry, for the current flooding.
The flooding made news headlines, attacking the government.
An-Nahar newspaper’s front page headline read “From Khalde to Dbayeh ... the forsaken country.”
“Resign” read the headline in the local daily Al-Akhbar while Al-Mustaqbal dubbed the flood a “public works scandal.”
“An official must resign. Anyone [should]. But you must not tell people that the responsibility does not fall on anyone,” Al-Akhbar wrote in its front page article.
The Mayor of the Beirut suburb of Ghobeiri Mohammad Khansa, himself stuck in traffic for hours Wednesday, said floods inflicted little damage to Beirut’s southern suburbs.
“In the suburbs, we suffered light damage and that is because we didn’t wait for the Ministry of Works to clean the sewers and channels, but we cleaned them ourselves,” Khansa told Al-Akhbar.
He said the airport road, given that it is an international highway, was not the responsibility of local municipalities, but that of the Ministry of Works.