BEIRUT: Lebanon witnessed Wednesday heavy snowfall in the northern and eastern regions at low altitudes as the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute warns “Alexa” has not yet reached its peak.
Despite growing fears of tragic costs as a result of this year’s first and brutal winter storm, very few accidents and incidents related to weather conditions were reported.
Roads in Beirut remained open with members of the police force deploying along the northern entrance of the capital where concerns were especially high after last week’s road flooding.
Snow fell in the northern regions of Akkar and Wadi Khaled in addition to the eastern towns of Hermel and Baalbek while heavy rain was registered in the capital and its suburbs as well as the Metn district.
In south Lebanon, residents remained indoors while shops and businesses were closed due to thick fog which reduced visibility on the roads in Bint Jbeil and the surrounding villages.
In Baalbek where 15-centimeter of snow covered the eastern town, mountainous roads were completely blocked and few villages were isolated while traffic almost came to a stop as a result of bad weather conditions.
Snow fell on the northern town of al-Bira with an altitude of 600 and 500 meters while roads to some villages were blocked particularly in al-Roum and Qobeiat.
On Dahr al-Baydar road in the eastern town of Zahle, ten cars collided with each other causing heavy traffic. There were no reports of casualties.
Strong winds in Akkar forced the collapse of a giant tree on a Lebanese Army clinic in Halba, causing minor damage.
Meanwhile, Syrian refugees were the most affected by the harsh weather conditions particularly in the northeastern region of Arsal and Zahle.
Syrian refugee settlements in Zahle were already inundated with rain, with some families dismantling makeshift tents and carrying their belongings to higher ground as the snow began to descend on their homes.
“The last couple of days, there was a little bit of rain and half the tents sunk in the water,” said Khaled al-Bazazi, a refugee from Homs, who lives in a tent settlement outside of Zahle with his wife and five children.
“In the winter, the situation is extremely wretched,” he told The Daily Star.
Weather forecast for the upcoming three days indicates heavy rain and snow fall with temperatures falling drastically across the country as a result of the brutal winter storm.
Lebanese authorities have taken precautionary measures ahead of this year’s first winter storm, Alexa, including the closure of public and private schools as security forces remained on high alert in case of emergencies.
The Municipality of Besharre said it cleaned the sewage pipes and used heavy machinery to reopen roads but the road to the Cedars remained blocked due to heavy snow fall.
The Internal Security Forces asked citizens and foreigners including refugees to remain cautious and check heating systems before using them, warning that 16 people died last year of suffocation due to gas leakages.
The security agency asked residents to regularly air their houses by opening windows in order to prevent suffocation.
Contrary to media reports of possible flight delays, schedules for all local and foreign flights at the Beirut airport remained unchanged.
Travelers continued arriving three hours ahead of flight time in case of traffic or road blocking.
The ISF reissued a statement to citizens and personnel, asking the latter to remain on high alert to assist civilians in areas that could get trapped as a result of heavy snow fall.
It also asked citizens to equip their vehicles with metal chains for snowy roads.
In Beirut, the temperature was 17 degrees Celsius with the low reaching 10 degrees, according to the weather forecast of Rafik Hariri International Airport.
The temperature in the Cedars, north of Lebanon, settled at 2 degrees Celsius. In the eastern region of Zahle, weather forecast registered a high of 10 and a low of 2 degrees Celsius.
On Thursday, temperatures in the Cedars are expected to reach minus 5 and zero degrees in Zahle.
Head of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, Michel Afram, said the storm will become brutal Wednesday afternoon and throughout the night.
"The storm is still at the first stage and Lebanon has not yet entered the eye of the storm which will reach its peak today afternoon and at night,” Afram told a local radio station.
“Temperatures in the Bekaa are now below zero and snow has covered areas with altitudes of 1,000 meters,” he added.
In the north, Public Works Ministry personnel are working on reopening roads which were blocked as a result of heavy snow fall in the morning hours.
#Alexa was trending on Twitter with many residents of Beirut criticizing the media frenzy that surrounded the storm prior to its arrival.
One user of the social media website wrote: "I think alexa is messing with us, you little player #Alexa," while other users posted pictures of snow-covered areas across the country.