As storm hits Mideast, refugees bear brunt


  • World
  • Wednesday, 07 Jan 2015

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A storm buffeted the Middle East with blizzards, rain and strong winds on Wednesday, keeping people at home across much of the region and raising concerns for Syrian refugees facing freezing temperatures in flimsy shelters.

Snowfall and gales in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley destroyed some refugee tents. "There's no firewood, no diesel," said Ali Eshtawi, a refugee from Homs who spoke by phone from a camp near the Syrian border where he said snow had caused three tents to collapse, leaving 19 people without shelter.

The storm is forecast to last several days, threatening further disruption in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which have all been affected.

A 35-year old Syrian shepherd and an eight-year old boy with him died in the storm in the mountainous area between Lebanon and Syria, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

Snow blocked roads in the Bekaa Valley, where more than 400,000 Syrian refugees are sheltering.

"We are worried that tents will be flooded. Refugees who don't have proper access to clean water or can't store drinking water will be in severe difficulties if we don't reach them in the next two days," Lauriane Gauny, programme manager in the Bekaa Valley with the aid agency Oxfam told Reuters.

Transport was disrupted across the region: Israeli police closed the main highways to Jerusalem intermittently, while Beirut airport was briefly closed on Tuesday night.

Damascus was carpeted with snow. There was also heavy snowfall across large parts of Turkey.

Turkish Airlines cancelled dozens of flights between Turkey's biggest cities and to several international destinations. Budget airline Pegasus also cancelled some flights.

Night-time temperatures in Ankara were forecast to plunge to minus 17 degrees Centigrade and natural gas consumption spiked to record levels in Turkey as people tried to heat their homes, forcing some usually gas-fired power stations to switch to fuel oil to generate electricity, a Turkish energy official said.

Wind and rain struck the Gaza Strip, where infrastructure and thousands of homes were destroyed in a 50-day war with Israel in July and August. 

    "Even nature is angry. I hope God is not angry with us. I am not scared of the storm. I am frightened for the fate of those without shelters, whose houses Israel destroyed," said Gaza City resident Abu Ahmed, on his way to the grocery to buy fuel for a fire. The enclave has electricity for six hours a day.

(Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in the Gaza Strip, Noah Browning in Ramallah, Ceyda Caglayan in Istanbul and Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Marwan Makdesi in Damascus; Writing by Tom Perry)

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