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Death toll from Lebanon storm rises, schools close
Snow covers streets in Baalbek, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)
Snow covers streets in Baalbek, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)
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BEIRUT: Caretaker Education Minister Hassan Diab announced Thursday the closure of public and private schools for a third day as a precautionary measure against a winter storm that left three people dead.

Temperatures across the country witnessed a drastic drop as a result of the first winter storm of the year named Alexa which mostly affected the north and northeastern regions in the country.

A security source told The Daily Star that Vanita Patikiri, a Sri Lankan national, died at the hospital after her motorcycle skidded off Dahr al-Basheq road in the Metn region northeast of Beirut Wednesday during heavy rain.

Two people died in a car accident Wednesday along the southern Sidon-Tyre highway by the town of Adloun.

Despite some sunny spells, cold winds engulfed the country in the morning and the Meteorology Department said temperatures are expected to drop to 6 degrees in Beirut by dawn Friday.

In the eastern region of Zahle, the temperature settled at a high of 2 degrees Celsius and a low of minus 3. In the northern region of the Cedars, the temperature was minus 1 with a low of minus 8.

Winds are expected to reach 50 kilometers per hour along the coastal regions between Jbeil and south Lebanon, the source said, adding that the second round of rain would fall Thursday night and continue until Saturday morning.

The Tarshish-Zahle road was blocked due to heavy snowfall while Public Works Ministry personnel were able to reopen roads in Akkar including streets leading to several villages.

The brunt of the storm continued to be felt acutely Thursday in the north and northeastern regions where most of the Syrian refugee population is located.

Residents in Mount Akroum villages in Akkar, north Lebanon, pleaded for assistance as snow blocked roads and temperatures plunged to below 6 degrees Celsius. The villages were also affected by power outages and disruptions to telecommunications.

The storm has blocked many roads from Akkar to Hermel, from the Cedars to Ainata, and from Hadath al-Jibbe to Tannourine, due to snowfall.

Syrian refugee settlements in Zahle, east Lebanon, were already swamped by heavy rain Wednesday, with some families dismantling makeshift tents and carrying their belongings to higher ground as the snow began to descend on their shelters.

In Wadi Ktar Maya in Mount Lebanon’s Iqlim al-Kharroub, several refugee tents were inundated Thursday with rain in a settlement home to 47 families, many of whom had to temporarily relocate to avoid the flooding.

Ahmad al-Zuhouri, a refugee from Qara in the mountainous Qalamoun region of Syria, slammed UNHCR Thursday, saying the agency has failed to provide the minimum requirements to refugees.

“All they [UNHCR] managed to do so far is provide food assistance and some blankets, mattresses and some tents which do not protect from the cold winter weather and strong winds that blow in a mountainous region with Arsal in the middle,” Zuhouri said.

Samira, who lives with her five children at a tent settlement in Wadi al-Hosn, prays to keep them safe, just like hundreds of other refugee mothers.

“I hope the storm ends without causing any damage to my children,” said Samira who fled the city of Nabak in Qalamoun a few months ago after her husband was killed.

Khaled Fliti, an activist helping Syrian refugees, also criticized the U.N. for not providing fuel for refugees registered with the U.N.

“Alexa is the first storm to hit Lebanon [this winter]. If refugees survive this storm, they may not survive other upcoming storms,” he said.

A spokesperson at UNHCR said very few refugees had left their tents since Wednesday and that the U.N. agency has provided refugees with weather proofing kits to improve provision of tents in camp settings.

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