Storms, snow, rains lash Mideast; Madinah valley being evacuated

JEDDAH/BEIRUT: Heavy rain, snow and fierce winds pummeled countries across the Middle East on Sunday for a second day, killing at least four people and wreaking havoc as a months-long drought came to a sudden, drastic end.Saudi Arabia too braced for inclement weather as the Met office forecast heavy rains and thunderstorms in parts of the Kingdom.Farm workers and company employees in Jazal Valley in Madinah’s Al-Ula principality have been asked to vacate the area immediately to ensure their safety following heavy rains there.The Civil Defense gave the warning on Sunday after water levels rose at Jazal Dam. The Presidency for Meteorology and Environment (PME) predicted the possibility of heavy downpours, accompanied by lightning in many parts of the Kingdom on Monday, especially in the southwestern areas of Abha and Baha.

Hussein Al-Qahtani, spokesman for PME, said low temperatures were expected in the eastern and northern parts of the Kingdom, adding that surface winds in these areas would reduce visibility to less than three km, especially in areas between Hafr Al-Baten, Qassim and Rafha.“We expect the speed of surface winds in the northern and central parts of Red Sea to reach 50 km an hour and waves to reach more than two meters high. It will be the same conditions in the northern part of Arabian Gulf,” the spokesman said.Security authorities in the northern parts of the Kingdom have taken precautionary measures in anticipation of any incidents due to heavy rains and duststorms. Poor visibility is expected in Tabuk, Al-Jouf, Hail, and Northern Border Province as well as in the Kingdom’s northern, western, central and eastern parts, Al-Qahtani said.Heavy rains were reported in many parts of the Kingdom on Sunday, including Jeddah, Taima, Dhuba, Qulaiba, Naama and Haqel and surrounding areas.Winds topped 100 km per hour and waves reached 10 meters 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.

Five others were also seriously injured in the collapse, a security official said, adding that 30 people could have been working in the six-story 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.In Israel, a Russian tourist was feared dead after he was blown into the sea in the storm that began on Saturday, one 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 km  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. Elsewhere in Israel, rain and hail pounded the country while strong winds toppled trees and traffic lights, flooding streets and knocking out electricity to hundreds of homes.

A snowstorm lashed Damascus, disrupting traffic but also bringing some relief from a four-year drought. Authorities closed their main port of Tartous, while four-meter waves forced Egypt to shut down the port of Alexandria — the country’s largest — as well as another in Nuweiba.In the Gaza Strip, strong winds and lashing rains caused cracks in the pier and the breakfront at the harbor local fishermen use. No one was hurt, but Civil Defense workers and the Gaza maritime police were hauling boats out of the water and moving them and other fishing equipment to safer ground.Sandstorms swept across Cairo, choking the air with dust and turning the sky a tepid beige. Doormen and shopkeepers tried in vain to keep the swirling dust at bay, sweeping sidewalks and dusting off parked cars.Jordan also wrestled with sandstorms kicked up by winds reaching up to 90 km per hour, police said. Visibility was severely limited, and authorities closed major highways in the eastern desert linking Jordan with neighboring Iraq and southern roads leading to the ancient city of Petra, a major tourist attraction – Arabnews