Syrian girl in Lebanon killed as winter storm batters Middle East
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Syrian girl in Lebanon killed as winter storm batters Middle East

‘Norma’ causes major flooding in neighborhoods of Beirut, power cuts in electricity-starved Gaza, and heavy snow and rainfall in Israel

Lebanese soldiers walk on a snow-covered road as they return to their base camp in the village of Dahr el-Baydar, Mount Lebanon, on January 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese soldiers walk on a snow-covered road as they return to their base camp in the village of Dahr el-Baydar, Mount Lebanon, on January 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

DAHR EL-BAYDAR, Lebanon — A storm packing snow and rain that has battered Lebanon and surrounding countries for five days left an 8-year-old Syrian girl dead, flooded neighborhoods and paralyzed major mountain roads.

Residents in some Beirut neighborhoods awoke Wednesday to find their cars immersed in water as rivers overflowed, inundating streets with muddy water.

Some of the most affected areas were the northern Beirut suburb of Antelias and Hay al-Sollom just south of the capital, where two rivers overflowed, flooding some parking lots and the ground floors of some buildings, forcing people to move to higher stories.

“All those who were affected by the storm will be compensated,” Higher Relief Committee chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir told reporters during a tour in Antelias, where trucks were unloading sand on the sides of the Fowar Antelias river to prevent further floods.

The storm, dubbed “Norma,” began Saturday and was expected to end late Wednesday, forecasters said.

In Israel and the West Bank, the storm has dumped rain across the country, and brought flurries of snow to some areas in the north and mountains surrounding Jerusalem.

On Monday, an Israeli soldier was killed when he was swept away by raging floodwaters during a training exercise in the north of the  country.

An aerial photo shows bulldozers and trucks cleaning a main street, after rivers overflowed, inundating cars and streets with muddy water and stones, in the town of Antelias, north of Beirut, Lebanon, on January 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

In the northern Lebanese town of Minyeh, the body of an 8-year Syrian girl who had been missing since Tuesday afternoon after she fell into a river was found the next morning in a nearby orchard.

In the village of Dahr el-Baydar, several bulldozers were working on opening the highway that links Beirut with the Syrian capital Damascus after it was covered with about a meter (yard) of snow.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement that some 11,000 Syrian refugees in 151 settlements were affected by the storm. It added that some 70,000 Syrian refugees are at risk.

In the eastern Bekaa Valley, home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, many had their tents flooded with water and mud adding to their misery. Others had their tents covered with snow as temperatures dropped.

Police blocked the highway and prevented cars and trucks other than four-wheel drive vehicles from passing for safety reasons before it was opened for all vehicles Wednesday afternoon.

Two Syrians remove snow, to open a path to their van where they sell hot drinks, on the side of a highway in the village of Mdeirij, Mount Lebanon, on January 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Mohammed Assaf had waited for several hours for the road to be opened to head to his hometown of Baalbek, in Lebanon’s northeast.

“As you can see the road is closed and security forces are not allowing anyone to pass, even those who have chains on their tires,” Assaf said as he stood on the icy road next to a police checkpoint. He added that it is rare for the highway to be closed.

In the impoverished Palestinian enclave of Gaza, downpours followed two days of windy, dusty weather, bringing relief to some people but adding constraints to many others, who can’t afford expensive, scarce heating.

Households in Hamas-run Gaza get about eight hours of electricity a day, followed by a similar period of blackout. This is an improvement from nearly two years ago when the 2 million residents suffered lengthy blackouts of up to 16 hours. But on Wednesday, the power distribution company said increased demand has disrupted the rotating schedule and caused more power cuts in some areas.

A Palestinian family warm themselves by a fire during a cold weather spell in a slum on the outskirts of the Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In a poor neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, residents clustered around fires they built from cardboard and leftover timber.

“We suffer when the winter comes, we make fires to warm the children,” said Imad Zu’rob, a local resident. Inside, he said rainwater leaks through the roof of his makeshift dwelling, forcing the family to distribute pots to contain the drops.

Officials in Israel said the storm rains lifted the level of the Sea of Galilee by over 19 centimeters. The lake is still 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) below its fullest level after five years of below average precipitation.

Mount Hermon reported snow this week, with snow levels reaching 150 centimeters (5 feet) at the summit and 120 centimeters (3.9 feet) on the lower slopes.

The ski resort there announced it will be closed Thursday due to heavy snowfall but said it is working to move excess snow to allow the site to reopen as soon as possible.

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