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Lebanon takes the brunt of the Levant's worst storm in decades

Published January 9th, 2013 - 07:34 GMT
Cars continue to struggle on Lebanon's snowy roads (The Daily Star / Mohammad Azakir)
Cars continue to struggle on Lebanon's snowy roads (The Daily Star / Mohammad Azakir)

The winter storm battering Lebanon is set to worsen Wednesday night, a day after it claimed more lives, with the number of deaths rising to four, and hit the Beirut suburb of Hay al-Sellom with severe flooding amid accusations of government neglect.

Throughout the country, high winds, heavy rain and snow led to widespread electricity cuts, property damage and closed roads as the storm entered its third day. In some regions, efforts to restore power were hampered by electricity workers who went on strike to protest cuts in bonuses and allowances in the latest budget.

According to the Civil Aviation’s forecast, temperatures will continue to drop going into Wednesday night when snowfall is expected as low as 200 meters above sea level in the north and 800-900 near Beirut. Lebanon has already seen nearly double the average rainfall for this time of year, according to the same official.

High winds claimed the life of Mohammad Adib Shahine, 25, who died after falling from an electrical pole on Batoul street in Hermel while working to restore power to the area. His death follows that of three other storm casualties, including a 7-month-old baby boy who is still missing and presumed dead.

Hay al-Sellom, just south of the capital, emerged as one of the hardest-hit areas, as the nearby Ghadir River burst its banks sending flood waters surging into the densely-populated neighborhood. In some streets, residents waded through waist-high water as they attempted to salvage what they could from their homes and businesses.

“The Interior Minister told us to stay home, but what if the water is coming into our houses?” said Mustafa Kraydieh, a local gas station attendant.

Choueifat Municipality Head, Melham al-Saouqi, declared Hay al-Sellom an “affected area” Tuesday, calling on the relevant ministries to aid the municipality which he said was “working at full capacity to meet the needs of those affected.”

But out of more than a dozen people from Hay al-Sellom who spoke to The Daily Star, not a single person said the municipality had contacted them or offered any assistance.

For his part, Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi defended his ministry in a television interview, insisting every effort was being made in its storm response and denied any negligence. “The ministry cleans out the Ghadir River every year even though it is not our responsibility, and it also spends hundreds of millions of [Lebanese pounds] to minimize harm and injustice,” he said.

In the Sahra area near the river, local volunteers were stacking sandbags and shoveling mud into improvised barricades to try and keep out the water.

Mohammad Tai, 34, who was working on the barricade, said the only help he had received was from “Hezbollah and neighbors” after his ground-floor apartment was flooded and he faced moving his entire family, including his paraplegic father, to higher ground.

According to several sources, Hezbollah was providing bulldozers, sandbags and other means of support to areas besieged by water.

“Unfortunately, there was no preparation to protect people from this natural disaster, especially from the municipality,” said Salman Qassem, 53. “There is no proper infrastructure. If they had built a main sewer, this wouldn’t have happened,” he added. “And we’re better off than most at least we still have a house.”

The snow and floods closed several major roads Tuesday night, including Kafrsalwan-Tarsheesh-Zahle; the interior road linking Jamhour to the villages of Bsous and Qomatieh; the main road of Ouyoun al-Siman-Faraya in Kesrouan; and the Dahr al-Baidar highway from the Nimleh Bridge coming from Zahle and from Sawfar coming from Aley; and the Zahle- Dhour al-Choueir road. – Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari, Antoine Amrieh and Rakan al-Fakih


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