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Winter storm batters Mideast, 8 dead

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm •  Published: January 9, 2013
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The fiercest winter storm to hit the Mideast in years brought a rare foot of snow to Jordan on Wednesday, caused fatal accidents in Lebanon and the West Bank, and disrupted traffic on the Suez Canal in Egypt. At least eight people died across the region.

In Lebanon, the Red Cross said storm-related accidents killed six people over the past two days. Several drowned after slipping into rivers from flooded roads, one person froze to death and another died after his car went off a slippery road, according to George Kettaneh, Operations Director for the Lebanese Red Cross.

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

In the Gaza Strip, civil defense spokesman Mohammed al-Haj Yousef said storms cut electricity to thousands of Palestinian homes and rescuers were sent to evacuate dozens of people.

Parts of Israel were bracing for snow a day after the military was forced to send helicopters and rubber dinghies to rescue residents stranded by floodwaters. In Jerusalem, streets were mostly empty as light snow began to stick Wednesday night. School was canceled for the next day because of the weather, which Israeli meteorologists said was the stormiest in a decade.

The unusual weather over the past few days hit vulnerable Syrian refugees living in tent camps very hard, particularly some 50,000 sheltering in the Zaatari camp in Jordan's northern desert. Torrential rains over four days have flooded some 200 tents and forced women and infants to evacuate in temperatures that dipped 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. A camp spokesman said that by Wednesday, some 1,500 refugees had been displaced within the camp and were now living in mobile homes normally used for schools.

Weather officials said winds exceeded 45 miles (70 kilometers) per hour and the rain left two feet (70 centimeters) of water on the streets.

The storm dumped at least a foot of snow on many parts of Jordan and was accompanied by lashing wind, lightning and thunder. It shut schools, stranded motorists and delayed international flights, Jordanian weatherman Mohammed Samawi said. The unusually heavy snowfall blocked streets in the capital Amman and isolated remote villages, prompting warnings from authorities for people to stay home as snow plows tried to reopen clogged roads. It forced at least 400 families to evacuate their homes and move to government shelters overnight.

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