Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Snow in the desert: Deadly winter storm hits Mideast

Mohammed Ballas / AP

Palestinians cross a road flooded and swept away by heavy rains in the northern West Bank village of Kabatyeh, on Jan. 9. A Palestinian official says the fiercest storm to hit the area in a decade has claimed the lives of two West Bank women who drowned after their car was caught in a flash flood unleashed by torrential rains.

By The Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan --?The fiercest winter storm to hit the Mideast in years has unleashed deadly flash flooding in the West Bank, dumped a rare foot of snow on the desert in Jordan and disrupted traffic on the Suez Canal in Egypt.

The unusual weather was a particularly harsh blow for the vulnerable Syrian refugees, especially about 50,000 sheltering in the Zaatari tent camp in Jordan's northern desert. Torrential rains over the past four days have flooded 200 tents and forced women and infants to evacuate their tents in temperatures below freezing at night, whipping wind and lashing rain.

"It's been freezing cold and constant rain for the past four days," lamented Ahmad Tobara, 44, who evacuated his tent when its shafts submerged in flood water in Zaatari camp.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday two West Bank women drowned after their car was caught in a flash flood a day earlier. Nablus Deputy Governor Annan Atirah said the women abandoned their vehicle after it got stuck on a flooded road and their bodies were found apparently swept away by surging waters. Their driver was hospitalized in critical condition.

The storm dumped at least a foot of snow on many parts of Jordan, shutting schools, stranding motorists and delaying international flights, Jordanian weatherman Mohammed Samawi said. He called it the "fiercest storm to hit the Mideast in the month of January in at least 30 years."

Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

Men play in the snow after a heavy snowstorm in Amman on Jan. 9. Snowstorm and heavy rains caused the closure of main streets in the capital Amman and other cities over the past two days.

The rare, heavy snowfall blocked all streets in Jordan's capital, Amman, and isolated remote villages, prompting warnings from authorities for people to stay home as snow ploughs tried to reopen clogged roads. The country's Meteorology Department said the storm, accompanied by lashing wind, lightning and thunder, dumped the most snow in northern regions and some parts of usually arid southern Jordan.

The snowstorm followed four days of torrential rain, which caused flooding in many areas across the country.

In Egypt, torrential rains, strong winds and low visibility disrupted Suez Canal operations over the past three days and also closed down several ports. The number of ships moving through the Suez Canal dropped by half because of poor visibility, the official MENA news agency reported. A canal official said that by Wednesday, operations had returned to normal. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

PhotoBlog: On the move again, Syrian refugees flee flooding

MENA also reported that ports in the northern Mediterranean city of Alexandria and Dakhila were shut down, while cities in the Nile Delta suffered power outages and fishing stopped in cities like Damietta, northeast of Cairo.

MENA also reported ten fishermen went missing after their boat capsized near Marsa Matrouh on the Mediterranean.

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? 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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