Winter Storm Wreaks Havoc across Lebanon, Piles Misery on Refugees
Xeber24.net – Asharq Al-Awsat
A winter storm lashed Lebanon with heavy rain and snow Tuesday, flooding streets and inflicting heavy damage on Syrian refugee encampments.
Authorities closed the highway linking Beirut with the Syrian capital Damascus after parts of it that cut through high mountains became covered with snow.
In the coastal town of Dbayeh, just north of Beirut, part of the highway was closed after it was filled with water. Rescuers later used small boats to help people stranded in their cars.
Most schools were closed Tuesday and the Lebanese education minister called for school to be closed even on the coast for a second day Wednesday.
On Monday, a woman gave birth in an ambulance as it took a long time to reach a hospital because of snow. The woman and the baby later arrived at the nearby hospital and both are in good health, according to state-run National News Agency.
In the eastern Bekaa Valley, many Syrian refugees stayed indoors next to diesel or wood heaters as snow covered their flimsy tents.
Some of the worst affected were the refugees living in Arsal, the mountainous northeastern border region with Syria, where the roofs of rudimentary shacks caved under the weight of the snow.
“Look at this weather, we are cut off from everything, the tent has collapsed, we turn to God,” one refugee there told AFP as snowflakes landed on her black head dress.
“The storm arrived yesterday and more than one meter of snow has fallen,” another refugee said.
“There’s no food, no bread, and the road has been closed since yesterday.”
Lebanon hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, many of whom live in informal settlements that have little or no infrastructure.
The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) said emergency measures had been put in place to rescue stranded families and help those suffering from the cold.
“Across Lebanon, at least 66 informal settlements have been found heavily impacted by the flooding, 15 of which have completely flooded or collapsed,” UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said.
“Around 300 people have been relocated so far in the north and the (eastern) Bekaa” region, she told AFP.
The UN agency and its partners were distributing relief items such as new tents, blankets, mattresses and drainage kits.
“UNHCR and partners estimate that approximately 850 informal settlements, hosting 50,000 refugees, are at risk of flooding,” Abou Khaled said.
The storm dubbed “Norma” began Saturday and is expected to reach its peak Tuesday night.