Snow-rain toll nine in region

January 10, 2013 - 2:56:56 am

RAMALLAH: Abnormal storms which for four days have blasted the Middle East with rain, snow and hail have left at least nine people dead and brought misery to Syrian refugees huddled in camps.

Officials reported that two women were found dead in the West Bank yesterday after their car was swept away in floods, while a 30-year-old man froze to death in Taalabaya, in Lebanon’s Bekaa province, after he fell asleep drunk in his car.

Snow carpeted Syria’s war-torn cities but sparked no let-up in the fighting, instead heaping fresh misery on a civilian population already enduring a chronic shortage of heating fuel and daily power cuts.

In Jerusalem, schools closed at midday and driving wind, hail and rain battered the city as temperatures hovered just above freezing and the polar air mass moving down from Russia sent temperatures plummeting as far south as Cairo. Raging winds and flash floods caused widespread damage to infrastructure across the Palestinian territories.

“The Palestinian infrastructure is deeply flawed and unable to handle weather like this,” said Ghassan Hamdan, head of medical relief in the northern city of Nablus. Torrential rain since Sunday in a region unaccustomed to such deluges has sparked widespread flooding that has also led to transport chaos and helicopter evacuations.

Met offices warned that the below-normal temperatures threatened to turn accumulated water to black ice and in Jordan police warned against all but essential travel as traffic accidents multiplied. They said hazardous driving conditions had caused more than 700 traffic accidents in 48 hours.

In northern Jordan, conditions for Syrian refugees in the Zaatari camp near the border were miserable as they battled a sea of mud and plummeting temperatures.

“My tent has been destroyed. I tried to fix it but it did not work. We don’t know what to do,” said Mohammad Hamed, 30, who fled the conflict in Syria a month ago.

“We need help. Urgent help. If this situation continues, our children will die.” Conditions were little better for Syrian refugees in neighbouring Lebanon, where the UN refugee agency began moving those living under canvas.

“With this very harsh weather, shelters have been threatened and now that snow is hitting the Bekaa people are really in need of assistance,” UNHCR external relations officer Cecile Fradot said.AFP    

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