BEIRUT: A snow storm blanketed most parts of Lebanon Wednesday, the fourth day of severe weather that has paralyzed many parts of the country and claimed the lives of at least seven people.
The overall death toll from the rare storm coming from Russia stands at seven, security sources said.
In a morning Cabinet session, ministers decided to allocate about $2 million to victims of the storm, which began in earnest Monday.
In the capital, the suburb of Hay al-Sellom took the brunt of the storm with severe flooding amid fears that many buildings are at risk of collapse.
Scores of houses along the river bank were damaged by the flooding. Many flood-hit families were not able to return to their homes.
In the north of the country, snow blanketed villages as low as 500 meters above sea level in Koura, blocking many roads in the highlands. Heavy rains also poured in Koura's highlands and central Batroun.
The ice-covered streets were deserted and many businesses voluntarily closed during the storm.
On the outskirts of Jbeil, snow enveloped towns surrounding the city at altitudes of 800 meters above sea level, shutting down many roads.
Further south in Kesrouan, intermittent snow hit towns 600 meters above sea level.
The Nahar al-Kalb River spilled over following heavy rainfall, forcing the closure of the coastal road leading to Dbayyeh in the Metn district, north of Beirut.
While most coastal roads were open to traffic, communication in mountainous regions remained paralyzed.
In east Lebanon's cities of Baalbek and Hermel, the roads were covered with snow 10 centimeters and five centimeters deep for the first time in many years.
Main thoroughfares linking Baalbek with Hermel and Baalbek with Zahle were closed to traffic and so was the Chtaura-Dahr al-Baidar highway.
The snow also shut down many roads in Jezzine, some 22 kilometers from Sidon. The main road linking Jezzine with West Bekaa was also blocked, except for cars fitted with tire chains.
With the poor road conditions in different parts of the country, many motorists heeded the advice by authorities to remain at home.
As in previous days, the agriculture sector was hit hard by the storm.
Entire crops were wiped out and agricultural greenhouses were razed in the Bekaa Valley Wednesday.
Meanwhile in south Lebanon, the ports of Sidon and Tyre remained closed for a third day.
More landslides were reported in Sidon, the provincial capital, and local officials urged authorities to speed up repairs to the road linking Abra with Hlaliyeh, east of the city, after a big portion of the highway collapsed overnight.
Tripoli’s port in the north of the country was also closed.
Cabinet, which met at the Grand Serail in Beirut, agreed to allocate LL3 billion (about $2 million) to the storm victims.
The government also decided to extend the closure of schools until Thursday.
Ahead of the session, Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi defended against accusations that his ministry was responsible for the damage caused by the storm.
“I am content that the transportation ministry has done all rehabilitation work during the summer in anticipation of rainfall,” Aridi told reporters.
He said his ministry was also not to blame for the overflowing of the Ghadir River which caused heavy material damage in Hay al-Sellom.
“Nevertheless, ministry workers headed to the river at dawn [Wednesday] and have so far lowered the water levels to about 2.5 meters and work will continue until this problem is solved,” Aridi said.
Lebanese Red Cross official George Kettaneh told The Daily Star Wednesday that 126 people have been wounded in road accidents due to the bad weather.
Kettaneh said the Red Cross has also helped evacuate dozens of residents throughout Lebanon.
The storm is expected to dwindle into showers Thursday.
A morning report by the Meteorological Department at Beirut airport said rain and thunderstorms would continue to lash the coast Wednesday.
It said snow would continue to hit mountainous regions as low as 400 meters above sea level as well as towns 500 meters above sea level on the outskirts of Jbeil.
Snow is expected to fall on areas 300 meters above sea level Wednesday night, according to the report, with record-low temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius along the coast.
Lebanon will witness light rain showers Thursday morning along the coast and snow is expected to fall on the northern coast of the country as low as 200 meters above sea level, the weather office said, adding that conditions should gradually improve during the day.
The Meteorology Department, however, warned motorists that hilly roads are expected to remain icy till Saturday.
A source at the Department said the unusual snowfall marked the first time in a decade that snow almost touched down on much of the northern coast.
"We haven't had low snow levels in years," the source told The Daily Star.
"In 1993 and in 2003 storms brought snow to levels as low as 100 meters above sea level." - Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari, Antoine Amrieh and Rakan al-Fakih