BEIRUT: Apprehension turned to relief for most Friday as storm Alexa made what was expected to be its last stand with snow, rain and cold winds. The weather was expected to improve over the weekend, with skies clearing to make way for sunshine.
Most private and public schools remained closed for the third day in a row Friday, with snowfall reaching some places in the country that are just 400 meters above sea level even as the worst of the storm passed.
The reprieve will come too late for some, however.
A Syrian infant died Friday of a preexisting lung infection made worse by the extremely cold weather in north Lebanon, a security source told The Daily Star.
Three-month-old Mahmoud Raad died in the early hours of the morning partly as a result of the cold weather in the village of Akroum in Akkar, where temperatures have plunged to below 6 degrees Celsius.
Raad’s is the fourth death linked to the storm. Three people have been killed in road accidents over the past several days.
Three Indonesian UNIFIL soldiers were also injured Friday in a car accident due to bad weather conditions while they were on a routine patrol on the Kfar Kila-Adaisseh road in the southern region of Marjayoun, and were transported to a nearby field hospital.
While temperatures are due to remain low Saturday, less rainfall is expected across the country, according to the Meteorology Department at the Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Beirut will experience a high temperature of 13 degrees and a low of 6, Tyre a high of 12 and a low of 4, Hermel a high of minus 2 and a low of minus 4, Zahle a high of minus 3 and a low of minus 4, the Cedars a high of minus 3 and a low of minus 10, and Tripoli a high of 10 and a low of 3.
Although the storm did not cause massive flooding or damage to infrastructure as many predicted, parts of the agricultural sector sustained losses regardless, and fishermen were unable to head out to sea.
In the north of the country, olive trees in over 20 towns and villages in the Zghorta district were severely damaged because of the storm. Temperatures reached minus 8 in the high areas and snow fell at an altitude of 500 meters above sea level, reaching the Koura town of Kousba.
In Hermel and the northern Bekaa Valley, low temperatures were also blamed for damage to crops, greenhouses and drinking-water networks. In the south of the country, several banana and citrus trees were uprooted in Tyre as a result of the strong winds.
Among the worst-affected were thousands of Syrian refugees across the country who lack proper shelter, with many living in makeshift tents or unfinished buildings.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour visited Syrian refugee settlements in the Bekaa Valley Friday. He announced the opening of 24-hour ministry-organized centers across the country to serve the Lebanese as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees in order to help alleviate the storm’s repercussions.
In Beirut, the Internal Security Forces called on motorists “to drive cautiously and avoid unnecessary trips because of the formation of water marshes after heavy rains.”
Elsewhere, many roads were closed due to snow. The Lebanese Army helped citizens stranded in the snow in remote towns most affected by the snowstorm, particularly in northern and central Bekaa Valley, Bsharri, Akkar, and villages in upper Kesrouan areas starting from Ajaltoun.
Separately Friday, pro-Hezbollah Sheikh Afif Nabulsi criticized ministers’ bickering, saying it had led to the inability of the government to uphold its responsibilities in terms of protecting the Lebanese from the storm.
“This snowstorm has come to reveal the nakedness of the state and its defenders, and it affirms to everyone that the one in control is unable to open the road or drain rainwater,” he said.
Caretaker Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi and caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi locked horns earlier this week over the lack of maintenance of sewage drains across the country before winter, which led to flooding on the airport road last week.
Meanwhile, any hopes that Alexa might have opened Lebanon’s ski season prematurely were dashed after there was less snowfall than predicted.
The Cedars ski resort might open after clearing trails this weekend, Ronald Sayegh of SKILEB.com told The Daily Star, but Alexa would have to dump a considerable base onto Mount Lebanon this weekend for skiers to be able to hit the slopes before Christmas.
“So far it’s not enough,” Sayegh said. – Additional reporting by Antoine Amrieh, Rakan al-Fakih, Mohammed Zaatari and Beckie Strum