Winter Storm Slams Mideast, 2 Die in West Bank

Syrian refugee boys make their way in flooded water at a temporary refugee camp, in the eastern Lebanese Town of Al-Faour near the border with Syria, Lebanon, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013.
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By JAMAL HALABY, Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The fiercest winter storm to hit the Mideast in years has unleashed deadly flash flooding in the West Bank, dumped a rare foot of snow on desert Jordan, and disrupted traffic on the Suez Canal in Egypt.

The unusual weather was a particularly harsh blow for the vulnerable Syrian refugees, especially about 50,000 sheltering in the Zaatari tent camp in Jordan's northern desert. Torrential rains over the past four days have flooded 200 tents and forced women and infants to evacuate in temperatures below freezing at night, whipping wind and lashing rain.

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"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 camp.

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

The storm dumped at least a foot of snow on many parts of Jordan, shutting schools, stranding motorists and delaying international flights, Jordanian weatherman Mohammed Samawi said. He called it the "fiercest storm to hit the Mideast in the month of January in at least 30 years."

The rare, heavy snowfall blocked all streets in Jordan's capital, Amman, and isolated remote villages, prompting warnings from authorities for people to stay home as snow ploughs tried to reopen clogged roads. The country's Meteorology Department said the storm, accompanied by lashing wind, lightning and thunder, dumped the most snow in northern regions and some parts of usually arid southern Jordan.

The snowstorm followed four days of torrential rain, which caused flooding in many areas across the country.

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In Egypt, torrential rains, strong winds and low visibility disrupted Suez Canal operations over the past three days and also closed down several ports. The number of ships moving through the Suez Canal dropped by half because of poor visibility, the official MENA news agency reported. A canal official said that by Wednesday, operations had returned to normal. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

MENA also reported that ports in the northern Mediterranean city of Alexandria and Dakhila were shut down, while cities in the Nile Delta suffered power outages and fishing stopped in cities like Damietta, northeast of Cairo.

MENA also reported ten fishermen went missing after their boat capsized near Marsa Matrouh on the Mediterranean.

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