MIDDLE EAST

Deadly winter storm ‘Huda’ hits Middle East

Syrian youths walk back with sacs of pitta bread from a bakery in Damascus under heavy snow fall on Jan. 7, 2015. (AFP)

Unusually powerful winter storms and torrential rain have swept through the Middle East and North Africa region, claiming the lives of three people, including two children, in addition to forcing the closure of access routes and sparking traffic chaos across the region.

Dubbed “Huda” or “Zina,” the wintry weather has disrupted everyday life in the region, but particularly caused an even deeper humanitarian crisis for Syrian refugees scattered across the neighboring countries.

Lebanon

The storm dumped rain and hail on Lebanon's coast and heavy snows in the mountains and central Bekaa Valley, where gas stations, banks, schools and most shops closed.

On Tuesday, air traffic was halted at 7:00 pm (1500 GMT) as Beirut buffeted by heavy winds. Flights resumed about an hour later, according to the National News Agency.

While the storm disrupted life for everyone, it proved particularly trying for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who live in tents and makeshift shelters in the Bekaa.

In eastern Lebanon, security officials said a Syrian shepherd, Ammar Kamel, 30, and a 7-year-old boy, Majed Badawi, died in the storm Wednesday as they made the dangerous trek through the rugged, snow-covered mountains from Syria to the Lebanese border town of Chebaa.

The officials quoted by the Associated Press spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Near the town of Anjar, men used brooms and sticks to try to clear the heavy snow from the tops of refugee tents, fearing the weight might cause the shelters to collapse. Inside the tents, adults could be seen huddling around the wood burning stoves to try to keep warm.

In Beirut's slum of Shatila, residents waded through dirty water and floating garbage that clogged the narrow alleys while children played, trying to catch hail.

Syria

In Syria, the guns fell silent as snow fell in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo and government warplanes remained on the ground because of bad visibility.

Snow blanketed Qassioun Mountain, which overlooks Damascus. The snowfall also brought traffic to a near standstill in the capital, Damascus, and prompted the Education Ministry to shutter school and universities for two days.

Late on Tuesday, Syria's state news agency SANA reported that the country's two main ports in Tartous and Latakia had been closed as winds of up to 74 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour) caused waves more than 5 meters (15 feet) high.

Jordan

The education ministry ordered all schools to stay closed Wednesday but left it up to authorities at the country's universities to decide whether to open.

Similarly, Jordanian civil servants and ministries were given a day off on Wednesday, while official exams this week are being postponed.

The Royal Jordanian cancelled some of its Thursday and Friday flights due to bad weather, including those to Iraq, Tel Aviv, Dubai, Riyadh and Cairo.

Palestine

Snow accumulated in the Golan Heights and northern Israel. Schools across Jerusalem closed ahead of a forecast warning of 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snowfall.

Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip declared a state of emergency over the storm. An 8-month-old Palestinian infant in the Tulkarem refugee camp was killed in a fire caused by a heating stove, Palestinian civil defense ministry spokesman Loae Bani Odeh said.

On Tuesday, Palestinians and Israelis scurried for food supplies and gas or paraffin heaters. In the Palestinian city of Ramallah, shoppers cleared bread, water and diapers off supermarket shelves.

"We ran out quickly," said one salesman in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, "There's not a heater to be found anywhere in the area."

Heavy rains and near-freezing temperatures in the storm threatens to deepen the misery in the Gaza Strip, where streets are still strewn with wreckage from a 50-day war with Israel last summer, thousands live in U.N. shelters and damaged homes and the power is on only six hours a day.

"No electricity, no drinkable water, no reconstruction, and now a storm. Our people need the help of the entire world," said Samir Ali, 47, a Gaza city taxi driver.

Egypt

In Egypt, a sandstorm engulfed Cairo for a second day, followed by a brief rainfall Wednesday while in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, gusty winds toppled a minaret.

The state MENA news agency reported no casualties, adding that the mosque was subsequently shut down for repair work.
Five of Egypt’s Red Sea ports have been closed off for the second day in a row due to high wind speeds of more than 25 notches, and more than four meters high waves in the Gulf of Suez.

Saudi Arabia

On Tuesday, Saudi meteorologists predicted temperatures in the north and northwestern parts of the kingdom to go below zero, in addition to high speed winds causing a sandstorm. The Presidency of Meteorology and Environmental Protection (PME) also predicted snow to hit Tabuk, Turaif and al-Jouf.

[With Agencies]

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Last Update: Thursday, 8 January 2015 KSA 23:09 - GMT 20:09
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Deadly winter storm ‘Huda’ hits Middle East
Three people were killed as winter storm 'Huda' swept through the Middle East and North Africa region
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