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Snow, frost paralyze large swathes of Lebanon
Snow covers mountains in Dahr al-Baidar, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Snow covers mountains in Dahr al-Baidar, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: Temperatures are expected to drop further across the country Thursday as schools remain closed for a second day in a row and authorities warn of more road closures.

The storm named Alexa is expected to test Lebanon with freezing temperatures, high winds and precipitation until Saturday. Two people died in a car accident along the Sidon-Tyre highway by the town of Adloun, but very few weather-related accidents were reported, despite fears that Alexa would overwhelm the country’s dilapidated infrastructure. Public officials have been trading blame over the Public Works Ministry’s failure to clear the sewers and drainage systems ahead of winter.

Wednesday saw the first snowfall of the season in the north and east of the country, while Beirut and much of the coast received some rainfall. Roads remained open in Beirut, where concerns were especially high after last week’s flooding.

The Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute predicted a significant drop in temperatures Thursday, warning the weather would worsen dramatically.

“The storm is still in its first stage and Lebanon has not yet entered the eye of the storm,” the institute’s head, Michel Afram, told a local radio station.

Rafik Hariri International Airport’s Meteorology Department said the heaviest precipitation would fall Wednesday night and ease up Thursday before resuming at night and continuing sporadically through Friday.

Temperatures in Beirut are expected to peak at 13 degrees and go as low as 11 Thursday, according to the Meteorology Department. Tyre will experience a high of 15 and a low of 7; Tripoli a high of 10 and a low of 5; the Cedars a high of 0 and a low of minus 4; Zahle a high of 5 and a low of minus 2; Hermel a high of 7 and a low of 1. Minimum snowfall nationwide was put at 800 meters, and 500 meters in the north.Caretaker Education Minister Hassan Diab announced that private and public schools would close Thursday due to the storm, while Head of the Lebanese University Adnan Sayyed Hussein said classes in all branches would be held as usual.

Snow fell in the northern regions of Akkar and Wadi Khaled in addition to the village of Bireh while the roads to some villages were blocked, particularly in al-Roum and Qobeiyat.

Strong winds uprooted an old tree in the town of Halba which fell onto a Army clinic and destroyed several cars, but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, municipalities in the areas of Bsharri and Dinnieh prepared small snowplows to aid the Transport and Public Works Ministry in opening roads as temperatures dropped below zero.

Many roads from Akkar to Hermel, from the Cedars to Ainata, and from Hadath al-Jibbe to Tannourine were closed due to snowfall.

In the northern city of Tripoli roads remained free of flooding, but a fishing boat in the Mina port sank due to high tides and strong winds in the afternoon, and a water tank fell from a building onto a car in Bab al-Tabbaneh. A sandstone wall also fell onto cars in the neighborhood of al-Hara al-Jadidah and a tree in Rifaiya fell by a mosque.

Snow also fell in on the towns and villages of the northern Bekaa Valley. On the Dahr al-Baidar road in the eastern town of Zahle, 10 cars collided with each other causing heavy traffic, but there were no reports of casualties.

In Hermel, snow even reached the banks of the Assi River, a first for over 20 years. Many of the roads were closed for several hours in the northeastern town as 10 centimeters of snow covered the area.

The main road between Maaser al-Chouf and Kefraya was also closed as a result of the snow, as were the roads between Zahle and Tarshish, Qobeiyat and Hermel, Rouweime and Kfartoun, and Ain Daqet and Akroum.

In south Lebanon, residents remained indoors while shops and businesses were closed due to thick fog, which shrouded the roads in Bint Jbeil and the surrounding villages.

Heavy rainfall in the Tyre town of Hay al-Malouta led to the inundation of some streets and neighborhoods, and several citrus, banana and vegetable groves were damaged due to the rain.

In the coastal town of Sidon, the fishermen remained indoors and did not head to the sea for fear of strong winds and high waves.

In the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, many families fled their homes due to large quantities of rainwater flooding the houses, while several farmlands were inundated in the southern district of Zahrani.

Last January, a severe winter storm battered Lebanon for nearly a week, killing several people and causing millions in material damages.

Lebanese authorities issued strict warnings ahead of Alexa, urging the public to remain cautious and check their heating systems before using them. Sixteen people died last year due to gas leakages.

An ISF spokesman told The Daily Star that security forces were remaining on high alert to assist civilians in areas that could become isolated as a result of heavy snowfall.

The ISF also asked citizens to equip their vehicles with metal chains for snowy roads.

“We are opening and closing roads depending on necessity,” the spokesman said. “We are also working on plowing snow with the cooperation of the Public Works Ministry personnel, the Lebanese Army, Civil Defense and municipalities.”

Syrian refugees were the most affected by the harsh weather conditions, particularly in the northeastern regions of Arsal and Zahle.

Syrian refugee settlements in Zahle were already inundated with rain Wednesday, with some families dismantling makeshift tents and carrying their belongings to higher ground as the snow began to descend on their homes.

In Wadi Ktar Maya in Mount Lebanon’s Iqlim al-Kharroub, several refugee tents were also inundated with rain in a settlement home to 47 families, many of whom had to temporarily relocate to avoid the flooding. – Additional reporting by Antoine Amrieh, Rakan al-Fakih, and Mohammed Zaatari

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 12, 2013, on page 1.
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