BEIRUT: Snow blanketed much of Lebanon Thursday after a fierce overnight snowstorm, with many people trapped in remote villages by blizzards.
Snow settled on the Lebanese coast, in north and south, in a rare appearance in over a decade as the country experienced record low temperatures.
The Meteorology Department at Beirut airport said the cold wave intensified during the night with temperatures plummeting to 4 degrees Celsius on the coast.
It said rain and snowfall at altitudes of 300 meters and above will continue Thursday morning before decreasing around midday.
The storm, which one weather official described as "rare," arrived from Russia late Sunday.
Residents on the outskirts of the northern coastal city of Jbeil woke to find snow covering their cars and the windows of their homes Thursday morning.
Roads 300 meters and above were covered with snow and authorities urged motorists not to travel on icy roads.
Heavy snowfall and blizzards cut off several villages in east and north Lebanon.
For much of the night and the early morning hours of Thursday, the storm was concentrated to the north of the country, dropping heavy snow in large parts of the Akkar region, including towns at an altitude of 350 meters.
Roads in Akkar remained closed.
Elsewhere in the north, snow in the Batroun town of Tannourine was up to one meter thick, and heavy rains flooded Al-Kabir, Al-Bared and Ostowan rivers.
In east Lebanon, the picture was similar. Snow and ice brought the Bekaa Valley to a standstill and trapped villagers in Yammouneh, east of Baalbek, as well as those living on the outskirts of Tfeil and surrounding villages.
Snow also covered the ruins and the plains of Baalbek and dumped 60 centimeters of snow on Hermel, which is situated about 600 meters above sea level.
Further southeast, in towns in the Hasbaya province, roads were closed due to snow.
In the south of the country, water levels rose on the Hasbani, Qasmiyeh and Zahrani rivers.
The blizzard also isolated the entire town of Shabaa as well as the Bint Jbeil border town of Maroun al-Ras and neighboring villages.
A 15 to 20 centimeter thick blanket of snow covered Jezzine and cut off the Jezzine-Jbaa and Jezzine-West Bekaa roads via the town of Roum.
The Israeli-occupied Kfar Shouba hills were also covered in white.
The harsh storm, which has crippled large parts of Lebanon since Monday, eased up around midday Thursday to allow Civil Defense crews and U.N. peacekeeping troops to clear roads blocked by snow.
At the port of Sidon, where 200 fishing boats are docked, fishermen rushed to inspect their property after the storm tapered off.
"My boat sunk during the storm and water damaged the engine," said Mohammad Wehbeh as he and several fishermen took stock of the damage inflicted on their boats.
Farmers along the southern Lebanese coast were also assessing crop damage caused by the storm.
The blizzard has destroyed plantations and torn up agricultural greenhouses.
The Lebanese Army rescued stranded motorists on hilly roads as temperatures dipped below freezing overnight, making streets icy.
Schools across Lebanon were shut for a third day Thursday due to the storm and thousands of residents throughout the country remain without power.
Scattered rain showers are expected Friday with considerably higher temperatures.
The Beirut suburb of Hay al-Sellom was hardest hit during the storm after Ghadir River spilled over, sending muddy water rushing into several houses illegally built on both sides of the bank. Many flood-hit families were left homeless.
The Cabinet on Wednesday allocated $2 million for the storm victims.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari, Rakan al-Fakih and Misbah al-Ali.