TRIPOLI/SIDON, Lebanon: The weekend’s stormy weather is expected to subside this week after heavy rains swelled Sidon’s Awali River and flooded villages in north Lebanon, prompting Higher Relief Committee Secretary-General Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir to pay a visit to the area Sunday. After northern winter winds from Russia led to an overall decrease in temperatures and stormy weather, the Meteorological Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport told The Daily Star, the country is expected to see less rain over the next few days and warmer temperatures throughout.
However, in the northern districts of Akkar and Dinnieh the damage has already been done.
Accompanied by a team of engineers, Kheir made a tour of the battered north, making his first stop at the Akkar village of Mhammara where flooding has affected houses, shops, warehouses, agricultural land and bridges.
He then went to the villages of Benin and Burj al-Arab, which flooded after Nahr al-Bared river’s irrigation canal spilled over, destroying agricultural crops and livestock in the area and closing off the road linking Halba to al-Abdeh between 5 and 10 a.m.
“The municipality has exerted [huge] efforts over the past 48 hours,” said Benin’s Mayor Kifah al-Kasar, adding that the body could not be held responsible for what he called a natural disaster.
“[We urge] the Higher Relief Committee to compensate the affected citizens and help rebuild the passages, bridges and the canals [that were affected] by the floods,” said Kasar, who met with Kheir at the municipality.
Kheir, however, disagreed. “Based on observations, the damage that was inflicted was due to heavy rains over two hours. I didn’t sense that there was a natural disaster,” said Kheir at the end of his tour. “What we witnessed was damage that was the result of [the huge] amount of rainfall that couldn’t be disposed of through an outlet.”
Kheir also dismissed that the committee should help people clean their damaged properties or provide compensation, saying their priorities and mission lay elsewhere.
“The disaster is huge and can’t be confined to a specific time because the damage and losses are too heavy and expensive and the committee doesn’t have the capacity to compensate for this scale of damage,” said Kheir. “Officials in the government should provide huge financial capabilities to remove [cost] of the damage from the area’s citizens.”
“As Prime Minister Tammam Salam said, the committee will help citizens to open closed roads, remove infringements that constitute a danger for the buildings, rebuild passages and provide bridges,” he said, adding that damage resulting from personal neglect would not be compensated.
Kheir, who also visited Miniyeh, Bqaa Sifrin, Bqarsouna, Jerd al-Nejas and Bhannine, urged people to clean the rivers, streams and canals so they were able to dispose of the winter’s rain properly without breaching.
In the village of Minyara, the walls of several homes crumbled as a result of the floods. In the village of Halba, mud covered the main streets, with gravel and rock closing off the entrances to the Serail.
In the northern Dinnieh district village of Qarsita, about 50 families had to evacuate their homes overnight after they were inundated with water, mud and rock. The roads to the village were completely blocked, and only a few entrances had been partially reopened Sunday.
The heavy rain also caused a water crisis in the area, with homes either completely cut off from their water supply or receiving polluted water.
Further north, in Akkar, the Lebanese Red Cross relocated dozens of Syrian refugee families from villages and towns damaged by flooding, where rising water levels loaded with rocks, gravel and stones damaged a number of vehicles and caused extensive damage to several homes in the area.
Syrian refugees also suffered as a result of the heavy rains in western and central Bekaa Valley, with camps and belongings damaged by flooding.
Major highways in Lebanon were also hit by the weather, with motorists taking to social media to post photos of the flooding.
One picture posted on the Traffic Management Center’s official Twitter page showed the Antelias-Bikfaya highway covered in soil, rocks and water, while another from the Joumhour area showed cars stuck in pools of water as a giant Civil Defense Forces truck tried to pull them out.
It wasn’t all bad news, however, as the rain brought much-needed relief to the dried-out Lake Qaraoun in the Western Bekaa following a drought that saw the water level drop by 90 percent.
In the southern capital of Sidon , the heavy rainfall was also highly anticipated after the summer drought and unusually dry winter last year.
The Awali River came back to life overnight, becoming the perfect place for ducks to have a swim.
Shipping traffic in the southern port wasn’t affected by the storm as it had already paused for the weekend, and the commercial ships off the city’s shore are expected to resume work as usual Monday.
Some fishermen even managed to make it out at night as usual despite the winds, according to the secretary of the fishermen’s union in Sidon, Nazih Sanbal, and residents took advantage of brief spells of clear skies over the weekend to get out and about.