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Ferocious storm cripples Lebanon
Cars mired in flood waters in Beirut’s Karantina area.
Cars mired in flood waters in Beirut’s Karantina area.
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BEIRUT/TRIPOLI/SIDON: A severe storm that raged across Lebanon over the weekend and continued into Monday claimed the life of one man and saw a baby boy go missing.

In addition to the loss of life, the storm caused extensive damage to homes, businesses, crops and public infrastructure across the country.

The storm’s effects were also felt by impoverished families and vulnerable Syrian refugees throughout the country as Lebanon braced itself for more high winds, rain and snow, which are expected to continue throughout the week.

Authorities cautioned the public to remain indoors in the coming days as the weather is expected to worsen, with snowfall predicted as low as 500 meters above sea level Wednesday night. Accordingly, the Education Ministry announced the closure of all schools Tuesday and Wednesday.

“This is definitely one of the strongest storms in the last 25 years,” said Mona Shahine Khauli of the Nicholas Shahine Meteorology center.

According to the center’s data, barometric pressure dropped to 750 and winds in Ras Beirut reached 82 kilometers an hour. A Civil Aviation official told The Daily Star the rainfall had already reached 624 millimeters since September; nearly double the average of 367 for this time of year.

“Atmospheric pressure was lower than we’ve seen in years and this is what sucks in the wind and heavy rain,” Khauli explained.

She added that a variety of factors, including global warming, were causing severe weather patterns all over the world. However, she noted that while the storm was unusually strong, it was not unprecedented.

“In 1991 we had a similar storm that they called Im al-Awasif [the mother of storms], and in 1983 there was also a very strong storm that caused 23 casualties and hundreds who went missing in Dahr al-Baidar,” she recalled. “People need to know that it’s not alarming, it has happened before, but it is severe.”

The storm’s youngest victim was 7-month-old Youssef al-Fadel, the son of a Lebanese shepherd family in south Lebanon who was swept away by floodwaters Sunday night.

Rescuers were still searching for the body of the boy.

The Fadels were one of several bedouin families from the Bekaa town of Deir Zannoun in east Lebanon who had camped in Jadra in the Iqlib alKharroub region east of Sidon.

“We were sleeping in our tent when we heard a strange sound and a few seconds later rain flooded our tent,” the boy’s brother Abdo, 11, told The Daily Star. “We all fled and my mother carried Youssef, but he slipped from her arms as she ran and was swept away by the rain.”

Joseph Antoine Sfeir, 69, was killed when his car skidded on the Zhaima-Mansourieh road in the Metn region, authorities said Monday.

The storm also added to the woes of Lebanon’s growing Syrian refugee community, who struggled to battle the floods and the cold.

“The problem we’re facing with this storm is that many of these families are still living in unfinished buildings and in really appalling conditions,” said Sophie Perreard, the emergency leader for Save the Children in Lebanon. “There are a lot of people being affected and the majority are children.”

In Sidon, flood waters poured into commercial and residential buildings and submerged several main roads, sweeping away cars and requiring at least one rescue operation by the Civil Defense.

Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, who is outside the country, released a statement calling for a state of emergency to respond to the storm, which she described as a “real natural disaster” that is “beyond the capacity of the municipalities and the civil defense.”

Northern Lebanon was impacted less but still faced flooding and property damage, including the Ebrine municipality in the Batroun region which was flooded along with the library causing minor property damage.

As of Monday night, most main roads were open with the exception of the Dahr al-Baidar highway linking Beirut to the Bekaa Valley, which was closed in both directions except for metal chain-equipped vehicles due to heavy snowfall .

At a Civil Defense station near Beirut Monday, telephones were ringing and first responders could be seen hurrying to assist citizens affected by the storm.

“We have had hundreds of interventions” one official there told The Daily Star. “People should stay at home unless absolutely necessary. “We are ready but when you have things happening everywhere you can’t respond to everything at the same time, no one can.”

Another official from the ISF who wished to remain anonymous advised people to stock up on food, heating materials, batteries and necessary medicine in anticipation of worsening conditions.

But for some, the damage has already been done. Edmond Boutros said it will take years for him to recover after his antiques gallery in Karantina was flooded.

“Look, look, it is all ruined,” he said, grabbing a sopping Persian carpet valued at $5,000. “I have 27 like this.”

Boutros estimated the total damage at $200,000. He blames the government for failing to maintain the road and drainage system.

“We took precautions. If you go into my shop you will see there is not a single leak from the ceiling, but the road is the responsibility of the ministry,” he said. “It’s not acceptable.” – Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari and Antoine Amrieh

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 08, 2013, on page 1.
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