Violent storm disrupts Beirut flights, schools ordered shut


Violent storm disrupts Beirut flights, schools ordered shut
The Daily Star/Jan. 06, 2015

BEIRUT/TRIPOLI/SIDON: A powerful storm with violent winds and heavy hail and rainfall ripped through Lebanon Tuesday, halting air traffic at Beirut airport and prompting the government to order the closure of schools across the country. Trees were ripped from their roots and billboards torn off posts in different parts of the country, as storm “Zina” batters coastal towns and buries mountain roads under layers of snow.

Flights were delayed as wind speeds and rain intensified in the evening. Planes took advantage of brief periods of calm to take off and land, but as the storm picked up flights were halted again. Disruptions are expected to continue throughout the night. Education Minister Elias Bou Saab ordered all public and private schools and institutes across the country closed because of the storm. Winds also led to halting maritime traffic in its southern ports of Sidon and Tyre. The winds from the incoming storm which destroyed orchards, caused property damage and knocked out power and Internet in parts of the country.

Fishermen at the Saint Simon area of Jnah, south of Beirut, were able to pull fellow citizen Rabih Kaderi after he drifted away on high seas for nearly two hours. High waves slammed into Jbeil’s waterfront, drowning the seaside promenade and forcing the closure of restaurants around midday. The mayor of Jbeil  Ziad Hawat warned that the town’s historic harbor was at risk. “We repeatedly appealed to the Directorate General of Antiquities to ask the Ministry of Public Works to kick off renovation works at the old port but to no avail,” he wrote on Twitter.

Pictures circulated on social media showed the port completely overrun by high waves. Fruits that had been blown off their tree branches littered orchards across the north as well as in Sidon and Tyre, while at least one large Christmas tree displayed in the northern city of Tripoli was toppled. “Zina” is expected to continue until Sunday, also knocked down utility poles, causing power and Internet outages in some parts of the north.

High winds, reaching up to 90 km/hour, have toppled billboards and damaged cars. Greenhouses were also torn apart by the storm. The winds also uprooted a tree in Beirut’s neighborhood of Tayyouneh blocking a large chunk of the road. A Palm tree was also uprooted in Sidon. “This is not the worst storm ever,” a source at the Department of Meteorology at  Beirut airport said. “Lebanon has seen … worse than that.”The Traffic Management Center said Civil Defense workers managed to haul off a tree that had blocked a street in the  Beirut district of Hamra.

Many mountain roads were still blocked by snow, including Sannine-Zahle, Ayoun Siman-Hadath Baalbek and Mnaitra-Hadath Baalbek. The vital Dahr al-Baidar road linking Beirut to Zahle was also closed due to snowfall, the Internal Security Forces said. The Kefraya-Barouk road was passable for jeeps and vehicles equipped with metal chains. Heavy rains are expected Tuesday night and tempatures will continue to drop as “Zina” intensifies. The storm is being brought over by a low-pressure weather system from the North Pole via Eastern Europe, according to Michel Frem, head of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute.

Frem, who said the cold weather would continue until Sunday, warned of flooding and strong winds through Wednesday, especially in Beirut and the south. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday temperatures will drop as low as minus 10 degrees in the Bekaa Valley, Frem added.