BEIRUT: Snow fell in mountainous regions across Lebanon Thursday, blocking roads and isolating villages in the third storm to hit the country this year, prompting the education minister to order all schools shut for Friday and Saturday.
Schools were closed Thursday in villages located at an altitude of 1,000 meters and above, as Storm Windy gained momentum during the day, sending temperatures plummeting to below freezing.
The meteorological department at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport said snowfall was witnessed in areas 900 meters above sea level and winds were recorded at speeds up to 90 kilometers per hour.
Mountain roads in north Lebanon’s Akkar district were blocked by snow and were accessible only by 4-wheel drive cars and vehicles equipped with snow chains.
The heavy snowfall in the Akkar town of Jabal Akroum trapped motorists in their cars, sending Civil Defense rescue units to pluck about 40 families from their trapped vehicles.
Snow also trapped a number of civilian and Army vehicles near the town of Fneideq, sending rescue teams after them.
The storm also caused power outages in some parts of Akkar, the National News Agency said.
Heavy rainfall flooded rivers in Akkar, inundating adjacent agricultural fields. Farmers said they feared their crops were destroyed, as newly-planted potato and tomato seeds were washed away by flood waters.
In the north Lebanon district of Dinnieh, the snowstorm shut down all schools in the region.
In the mountains east of the northern town of Batroun, snow reached 25 centimeters high as snowplows worked on reopening the main Tannourine highway that was blocked.
Beirut witnessed heavy rainfall and fierce winds accompanied with intermittent hail showers.
The Damascus highway, which connects the country’s eastern Bekaa Valley with Beirut, was closed briefly in Dahr al-Baidar, after several cars skidded off the icy road.
Municipality workers and Civil Defense struggled to reopen that vital road, making it accessible only to vehicles with snow chains.
In the southeastern region of Rashaya, 15 centimeters of snow was recorded Thursday evening, blocking several major roads.
The storm also besieged hundreds of tents for Syrian refugees in the area, and trapped several motorists in their cars.
In Lebanon’s Arkoub region, also in the southeast, many villages were snowed in and students remained at home as schools closed for the day.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab ordered schools across the country to shut for Friday and Saturday.
Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter called on snowplow centers and parties responsible for drainage networks to be prepared in case of emergencies.
The meteorological department said Storm Windy blew over from the Arctic and will last until Friday. The forecast expects the storm to peak Thursday evening and subside before Saturday.
Meanwhile, Economy Minister Alain Hakim criticized fuel distribution companies for not supplying diesel to stations in the Bekaa Valley, saying that the diesel shortage was not acceptable in light of the stormy weather in the region.
He accused fuel distribution companies of abstaining from providing stations with large quantities of fuel due to the decline in prices. The distribution companies are preserving the fuel in order to sell it at higher prices when the cost of fuel rises.
Bekaa Valley residents have complained that the policy has kept them from acquiring enough fuel to heat their homes.
Windy arrives as Lebanon recovers from a storm that battered the country last week.
For several days, "Storm Yohan" pummeled Lebanon with heavy rain, snowfall and violent winds on the coast, causing severe damages to the country's infrastructure.