Storm wrecks Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon

Arsal: Heavy rains and snow wrecked several informal settlements housing Syrian refugees in Lebanon and left thousands in need of emergency assistance, aid workers said on Tuesday.

Some of the worst affected were the refugees living in Arsal, a mountainous border area in northern Lebanon where the roofs of rudimentary shacks caved under the weight of the snow.

“Look at this weather, we are cut off from everything, the tent has collapsed, we turn to God,” one refugee there told AFP as snow flakes landed on her black head dress.

“The storm arrived yesterday and more than one metre of snow has fallen,” another refugee said.

“There’s no food, no bread, and the road has been closed since yesterday.”

Snowfall is not unusual in the area but Lebanon has in recent days been hit by a prolonged patch of severe weather and a storm dubbed “Norma”.

Schools closed across the country, roads were cut off by flooding and pools of water formed in major underpasses in Beirut, wreaking traffic chaos across the capital.

Lebanon hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, many of whom live in informal settlements that have little or no infrastructure.

The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) said emergency measures had been put in place to rescue stranded families and help those suffering from the cold.

“Across Lebanon, at least 66 informal settlements have been found heavily impacted by the flooding, 15 of which have completely flooded or collapsed,” UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abou Khaled said.

“Around 300 people have been relocated so far in the north and the (eastern) Bekaa” region, she told AFP.

The UN agency and its partners were distributing relief items such as new tents, blankets, mattresses and drainage kits.

“UNHCR and partners estimate that approximately 850 informal settlements, hosting 50,000 refugees, are at risk of flooding,” Abou Khaled said.

The bad weather had also hit Syrians displaced within their own country.

Tents were flooded in a camp in the northern province of Idlib, Syria’s last rebel stronghold which borders Turkey.

Heavy rain and gusts of wind had swept up clothes and furniture, burying some in the mud, an AFP contributor said.

“The flood took away everything in its path: tents, cooking (equipment), covers,” said Faisal Abu Zeid, originally from the neighbouring province of Hama.

“We don’t have food or water… 25 families have found refuge in the mosque,” in the border town of Atme, he added.