Palestine shuts down as storm strikes

8 Jan

305474-1A Gaza street scene during recent flooding (Maan Images)

Ma’an News Agency report, 7 January 2014

Millions of Palestinians bunkered down at home Wednesday as they faced down the first day of huge winter storm that has brought a mixture of rain, hail, and snow accompanied by heavy winds crashing into the Holy Land this week.

Palestinian authorities on Wednesday afternoon announced that all official business would be closed Thursday because of the storm, which has been nicknamed “Huda” in Palestine and Jordan and “Zina” in Lebanon, and urged people to take safety measures in the coming days.

The storm is expected to last until Sunday, bringing snow in higher areas around Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Hebron in the occupied West Bank as well as in northern Israel, while flooding is expected along the coastal plain, including in the Gaza Strip.

Temperatures have dipped far below averages and are expected to hover around or just above freezing in the West Bank both day and night over the next week.

Palestinian authorities on Wednesday praised the role of civil defense units and medical centers until now, as they worked overtime to respond to emergencies and braced for the work to be done in the coming days.

Already in some areas across the region temporary electricity cuts have been reported, but many fear the worst is yet to come.

The worries are especially in the Gaza Strip, where widespread flooding only last month in a much smaller storm in December prompted the United Nations to declare a state of emergency.

Official Palestinian news agency Wafa said that dozens of homes were already flooded by Wednesday afternoon, forcing “hundreds” from their homes.

The agency quoted Gaza municipal authorities as as warning of a coming “humanitarian crisis.”

Nearly 110,000 Palestinians were left homeless by Israel’s bloody summer assault on the besieged coastal enclave, and the vast majority remain without any permanent residence due to Israeli restrictions on the import of reconstruction material.

In Dec. 2013, one of the worst winter storms in 50 years caused flooding of around half-a-meter in parts of Gaza, forcing at least 10,000 to flee their homes.

Electricity shortages due to Israel’s eight-year-long siege of Gaza and the subsequent fuel shortages it has caused, meanwhile, delayed clean up, as water pumps could not be fully deployed.

With more than 100,000 Gazans already homeless this time around, many fear this year’s storm could have deadly serious consequences.

Gaza electricity authorities only recently declared that irregular power outages would be put in place to deal with continuing fuel shortages as a result of the Israeli blockade, on top of the “six hours on, 12 hours off” schedule that is already in regular usage.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, many fear a repeat of the Dec. 2013 experience with Storm Alexa, when massive power outages struck across the region as a result of downed power lines.

In that storm, Israeli engineers insisted on repairing lines instead Israel and those serving Jewish settlements in the West Bank before helping their Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank repair connections, leaving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians without power even as Israeli Jews in neighboring settlements received electricity.

The storm has already caused major suffering across the Levant, killing at least two Syrian refugees in Lebanon due to cold.

Millions of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who fled Syria remain scattered in lightly-protected camps across Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq, and fears are growing that not enough has to been done to help them brace for the winds, rains, and snow expected to pummel the region.


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