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Lebanon takes action ahead of Alexa after flood indignity

Sidon residents buy essentials to prepare for Alexa. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT/ZAHLE/SIDON, Lebanon: Caretaker Education Minister Hassan Diab announced Tuesday the closure of public and private schools as municipalities across Lebanon began taking precautionary measures in anticipation of a brutal snowstorm.

“Because Lebanon is subject to the harsh snowstorm, ‘Alexa,’ which has already caused a sharp decline in temperatures, and rainwater is expected to increase and block traffic, to avoid the risks caused by the storm and its impact on school students ... public and private schools will be closed and classes will not be held Wednesday,” the statement from the Education Ministry said.

The Health Ministry also called on all nurseries to close in preparation for the storm, while the Lebanese University said classes would go on as usual.

“Alexa,” the winter’s first snowstorm, will be accompanied by intense cold and snowfall at altitudes in the north, between 1,000-1,500 meters, in addition to heavy rainfall.

A Twitter account called “Storm Alexa” was trending, providing a humorous take on the impending storm with posts such as “Girls named #Alexa will have to be very patient with the jokes this week” and “In 2 days I’ll be gone and u’ll all go back to ur boring sorry lives.”

The impacts of the storm were already apparent early Tuesday as the road between Oyoun al-Siman and Hadath Baalbek and the road between Tarshish and Zahle were closed due to heavy snowfall. Thick layers of snow also covered the Dahr al-Baidar highway.In a refugee gathering just outside of Zahle in the area of Torbol, Syrian families, most from Homs, grew worried as temperatures began dropping significantly as the night drew on. Most had to make several trips to nearby vendors to buy firewood, a commodity that families said had been growing more expensive over the last few days.

The Interior Ministry, various municipalities, as well as the Telecommunications Ministry sent text messages throughout the day calling for motorists to drive safely, while the Social Affairs Ministry released a statement saying it had begun cooperating with the Lebanese Army and the UNHCR to implement an action plan to distribute aid to 24 tent settlements, most of which are located in the Bekaa Valley. The aid includes material needed to fortify tents against rain water in addition to a monthly stipend to secure heating elements.

The General Directorate of the Civil Defense released a statement calling on all operational units to “remain fully prepared to intervene and rescue citizens and heed distress calls.”

Meanwhile, a statement released by the Internal Security Forces said acting chief Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous called on all units to be on the ready for immediate intervention to provide aid to individuals in the event of road closures.

Civil Aviation Authority president Daniel Haibe also released a statement cautioning airlines and ground handling services to take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of Rafik Hariri International Airport.

Separately, a statement released by the Beirut Municipality said it had enhanced the preparedness of its guards and the Civil Defense as well as all municipality engineers for the coming four days.

Acting Qaimaqam of Tyre, Hasan Idiby, held a meeting with mayors of the southern district as well as with the president of the municipalities’ union to discuss the dangers of the looming storm, as well as the security measures that needed to be taken. The municipalities in the Chouf region and in the Tripoli areas of Beddawi, and the Akkar area of Jouma did the same.

Citizens in the Chouf also stocked up on food and fuel for heating purposes.

For its part, the municipality of Baalbek established a hotline for refugees living in tents should the storm build up.

In the southern coastal city of Sidon, fishermen took their boats from the port and set them on land, and restaurant owners by the beach brought their chairs and tables indoors.

Umm Mohammad, a Syrian refugee, carried what was left of the wood outside a sawmill in Sidon, as her two children played nearby. “We escaped death in Homs to face winter and live in a tent, and we don’t know what the wind will do to it.”

Sidon Mayor Mohammad Saudi said the municipality has already taken precautionary measures to protect citizens against the storm and has cleaned the city’s canals. The mayor added that storms were a “normal” occurrence. additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen and Mohammed Zaatari

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 11, 2013, on page 1.

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