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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

At least four dead in Lebanon as severe weather sweeps through region

Snow, rain and sand have affected large parts of the Mediterranean coast

At least four people have been killed in Lebanon, including a Syrian girl and her brother, after heavy rain and snow battered the country.

Storm Miriam – also referred to by some Lebanese officials as Storm Tracy – is the second to hit the Eastern Mediterranean country this month after Norma, which struck on January 6.

One person was killed and 10 injured on Tuesday in a vehicle collision caused by poor visibility, the Daily Star said.

The first storm had a devastating effect on more than 20,000 refugees living in tents in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and areas in the country's north, displacing many whose shelters were either flooded or destroyed by snow.

Paul Donohoe of the International Rescue Committee visited the Bekaa Valley on Thursday after Miriam swept across Lebanon with strong winds, rain and snow.

“Last night’s storm brought even more misery to many thousands of Syrian refugees living in makeshift camps across Lebanon. Many tents, already severely damaged by storm Norma, were full of holes and completely unable to cope with further extreme weather," Mr Donohoe told The National.

“Heavy rain in Bar Elias in central Bekaa saw the river overflow once again, resulting in many tents being totally flooded during the night. Children walking around in ankle-high water had no way to protect themselves from the wet and cold. One family unable to afford firewood was burning discarded shoes to heat the stove," he said.

"For many Syrian refugees this has been the harshest winter they have faced since they found safety in Lebanon.”

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On Wednesday, some refugee families in the Bekaa Valley were spotted repairing their tents in preparation for the storm.

One group, tweeted Mr Donohoe, had to make do with lining the inside of their tent with peanut bags instead of the usual plastic covering as protection.

On Tuesday, Lebanon's Internal Security Forces warned against walking or parking close to the sea, billboards and trees.

As Miriam abated on Thursday, severe weather swept through the rest of the region.

In neighbouring Syria, the first snow fell on Damascus, following heavy rain and strong winds.

All ports on the Syrian coast were closed due to the prevailing conditions.

Heavy waves damaged the corniche in the city of Tartous, while mid-term exams were postponed at Damascus University.

Low visibility and high winds forced the Egyptian ports of Suez and Zeitiyat to close, as a huge dust storm turned the sky an eerie orange colour. The health ministry warned anyone with respiratory issues to stay at home.

The ports reopened on Thursday as weather conditions improved and winds stabilised, the Red Sea Ports Authority said.

Winds had reached over 50kph, bending palm trees along the Nile River, while in Libya rain, wind and cold weather was driving increased demand for electricity that overloaded the network and led to power outages.

In Jerusalem thunderbolts lit up the sky behind the Al Aqsa mosque as snow and rain fell.

Images on social media showed groups of people walking by the holy site through snow-covered courtyards.

High desert winds swept through Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, carrying sand and dust, while snow was already falling in Israel's mountainous north, where torrential rain and hail stranded some cars and turned streets into rivers of mud.

Updated: January 17, 2019 06:59 PM

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