Sand, snow, thunderstorms wreak Mideast havoc

12th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Winds, rain sandstorms and hail battered the southern and eastern Mediterranean on Sunday, killing at least five people, closing ports and disrupting traffic in the Suez Canal.

Drought-stricken countries across the Middle East had been praying for rain for weeks when the weather turned violent at the weekend, with at least five people killed as gale-force winds and torrential rain pounded the coastline.

Winds topped 100 kilometres (60 miles) per hour and waves reached 10 metres (32.8 feet) in height as cities in Lebanon and Israel suffered power cuts.

At least three people were killed in Egypt when a factory collapsed in heavy rain in the densely populated northern port city of Alexandria.

Six others were also seriously injured in the collapse, a security official said, adding that 30 people could have been working in the six-storey factory.

The storms, which briefly disrupted flight schedules, come after unseasonably high temperatures and a lack of rain ravaged forests across the region and left farmers struggling to survive.

An Italian container ship was also stranded off Egypt's northwestern coast of Marsa Matruh after its engines broke down, with 21 crew on board still waiting to be rescued.

Vessel owner Stefano Messina told the Italian news agency Ansa on Sunday that a tug boat was on its way from Crete to assist the ship which he said was carrying toxic materials including paint and resins.

"The cargo is safe and cannot provoke an environmental catastrophe. There are 38 containers of paint and resins," Messina was quoted as saying.

Rain and hail whipped across Lebanon on Sunday as the long-awaited first snowstorm of the year fell on mountains -- good news for the country's famed ski resorts but leaving many commuters stranded in icy conditions.

Seaside roads and ports closed on Sunday morning, hours after a 45-year-old woman was killed when a falling palm tree crashed into her car.

The Beirut government evacuated several homes on the coast in the south and placed emergency rescue teams on alert.

In Israel, the body of the Russian tourist blown into the sea on Saturday has been found, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Sunday.

Waves of up to seven metres prevented police from carrying out searches for him but "his body later washed ashore on one of the beaches nearby," Rosenfeld said. Two people were also moderately hurt by falling trees, he added.

The storm began on Saturday, a week after a devastating forest fire killed 43 people near the northern port city of Haifa.

A Moldovan freighter also went down in stormy seas some 15 kilometres from Israel's port of Ashdod on Sunday, but its 11 Ukrainian crew members were all rescued unharmed.

In the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied plateau which adjoins Syria, snow and rain were abundant but sandstorms were expected in the south of the country, Israel's meteorology department said.

A snowstorm lashed Damascus, disrupting traffic but also bringing some relief from drought which has gripped Syria for the past four years. UN estimates say the drought has affected around 1.3 million Syrians.

Sandstorms also hit the desert countries of Jordan and Egypt and visibility deteriorated while temperatures plummeted.

Jordan was also bracing for heavy rain and snow later in the day, which officials warned could lead to flooding.

In Egypt, the bad weather forced several ports to close and disrupted traffic in the Suez Canal, which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

The waterway was hit by poor visibility and winds of up to 40 knots an hour, said an official at the canal, Egypt's third-largest source of foreign revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers.

The authorities barred south-bound ships from entering the waterway, and north-bound traffic from the Red Sea was limited.


© 2010 AFP

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