BEIRUT, (AFP) – Winds, rain and hail battered the eastern Mediterranean for a second day on Sunday, wreaking havoc across the region as a months-long drought came to a sudden, drastic end.
Drought-stricken countries across the Middle East had been praying for rain for weeks when weather conditions turned violent at the weekend, with one person killed and another feared dead as gale-force winds and torrential rain pounded the coastline.
Winds along the coast topped 100 kilometres (60 miles) per hour on Sunday and waves reached 10 metres (32.8 feet) in height as cities in Lebanon and Israel suffered power cuts.
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.
Rain and hail whipped across Lebanon on Sunday as the long-awaited first snowstorm this year hit the country’s mountains – bearing good news for the country’s famed ski resorts but leaving commuters stranded on icy roads.
Lebanon’s seaside roads and ports were closed on Sunday morning, hours after a 45-year-old woman was killed when a falling palm tree crashed into her car.
A number of fishermen ventured out to inspect their destroyed boats as the government evacuated several homes on the southern coast and placed emergency rescue teams on alert Sunday.
In Israel, a Russian tourist was feared dead after he was blown into the sea in the storm that broke out on Saturday, one week after a devastating forest fire killed 43 people near the port city of Haifa.
A Moldovan freighter also went down in stormy seas some 15 kilometres from Israel’s Ashdod port on Sunday, but its 11 Ukrainian crew members were rescued unharmed.
In the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied plateau which adjoins Syria, snow and rain were abundant while sandstorms were expected in the south of the country, Israel’s meteorology department said.
But rain was still sparse in the populous cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
A snowstorm whipped across the Syrian capital Damascus on Sunday, disrupting traffic but also bringing some relief from a drought which has gripped the country for the past four years.
The UN estimates drought has affected around 1.3 million Syrians, 800,000 of them severely, in four consecutive droughts since 2006.
The desert countries of Jordan and Egypt were meanwhile hit by sandstorms on Sunday as visibility deteriorated and temperatures continued to plummet.
Jordan was also bracing for heavy rain and snow expected later in the day, which officials warned could lead to flooding.
In Egypt, a sandstorm, strong winds and lashing rains forced several ports to close Sunday and disrupted traffic in the Suez Canal, a major waterway linking 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.
Thunderstorms and heavy rains have lashed Egypt’s north coast, the Red Sea region and the Sinai peninsula.